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Thursday, January 29, 2015

Silverbell Lake Tucson, Arizona


On my way to Sweetwater Wetlands as I approached Christopher Columbus Park the morning light was an amazing golden yellow so I decided to stop in and check out Silverbell Lake which is located inside the park. I arrived just as the sun was peaking out from behind the horizon so I decided to spend some time and see what was around for wildlife and walk the perimeter of the 13 acre "lake".


I have to admit that I have a hard time thinking of 13 acres as anything but a pond having hailed from New England where there are some pretty large bodies of water but here in extreme Southern Arizona I have encountered a number of small bodies of water that are referred to as lakes and there is so few of them that I guess I can go along with that designation.


The first large bird I encountered was this Great White Egret wading just off shore. Birds here are used to the presence of humans but they still manage to keep their distance. I had a 135 mm lens on the camera and was primarily interested in landscapes so my first walk around the lake was with this one lens. The light at this time of day changes rapidly and within a few minutes the whole scene can change completely so I moved quickly around the lake taking hand-held photos to use here on my blog.




There are quite a few big trees along the water's edge including this one which I believe is a eucalyptus. It has taken quite a bit of abuse in the form of carvings but still looks extremely healthy in spite of the vandalism. Most of the ducks were common varieties but I still enjoy seeing them here in the desert.


This island has two rather large trees on it and although you can't see them well from this angle there are four Great Blue Heron nests in the largest of the two. I counted eight Great Blues altogether mostly in or around the nests with occasional trips out for food or nest building material. This is a place that's really worth a visit especially during the early hours of the day. I'm thinking of taking a trip there for sunset because the best view of the birds and nests is from the west side of the lake.


I have always had a soft spot for large trees and especially so here in the desert where there are so few of them. Most of the truly big one's that I have seen are along rivers and streams or next to man made bodies of water like these.


The tree on the left was home to many cormorant's including Double-crested and in the past I have seen Neotropic Cormorants here. I left my binoculars home so I can't say if there were Neotropics or not.


Every time I have visited the lake there have been people fishing for catfish, trout, sunfish and white amur. The lake is also a very popular picnic area on week-ends and can be quite crowded during nice weather.


Some trees here in the desert hold their leaves year round others drop them and there is quite a variety of looks during the winter. Some green and vibrant, some completely nude and some part way.


These are a few photos of the nesting site which is well camouflaged in the tree and the birds themselves are difficult to pick out from a distance but these are huge nest's and large birds.








This Vermillion Flycatcher just lit up in the morning sun and even though I wasn't able to approach too closely I spotted it from a great distance. If I'm not mistaken this ones an immature male.




After leaving Silverbell I headed over to Sweetwater, my original destination and was greeted by this Great White Egret just as I entered the facility.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Snow in the Sonoran Desert

On January 1st 2015 we woke up to snow on the desert floor. I got up at 4 A.M. and headed out before sunrise to enjoy this unusual event and of course to get some photographs to share here at Sonoran Connection. As you can imagine not too many people are out that early and as a matter of fact I had to stand around,camera mounted on my tripod and wait for the light to find me. Even though I dressed warmly it was still a challenge to stay warm as I am not that used to cold weather anymore. My hands were the hardest to warm even with gloves partially because my tripod is metal and iT got very cold lugging it around.


This a photo of Golden Gate Mountain which rises 1500 ft above the desert floor.


Gates Pass in the distance.


Tucson Mountain Park is loaded with hiking trails.


Tucson Mountains


 Even though it was fairly cold the snow began to melt as soon as the sun was up and was almost totally gone by 11:00 A.M.





Fog shrouded the mountain as the sun began to melt the snow. it was quite beautiful but hard to capture.


Sunday, November 16, 2014

Madera in the Morning


For the bird watchers out there this is an excellent time to head to Madera Canyon. There is strong stream flow and lots of fall colors as well lots of song birds flitting in the trees along the stream. We spotted a Painted Redstart, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, and a Townsend's Warbler all at different locations along the stream. We came to walk and I in particular came to take some landscape photographs. Even though I wasn't expecting much for color I was pleasantly surprised. We stayed in the lower canyon during our visit hoping to get a look at a few deer or maybe Javelina which we have seen on many visits but it was not to be on this day. The weather however was perfect, the air was refreshing and we had arrived early enough that the canyon was not yet over crowded as it sometimes can get when it's this nice on a week-end day.

Read about the Painted Redstart here: http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Painted_Redstart/id
                         Ruby-crowned Kinglet here: http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/ruby-crowned_kinglet/id
                         Townsend's Warbler Here: http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/townsends_warbler/id



I have always been fascinated by riparian areas and especially the magnificent trees that manage to grow to incredible size like the Arizona Sycamore. Madera Creek does not flow year round and is dependent on snow melt, monsoon and winter rains that all vary from year to year. We have visited when the creek bed was completely dry and when it was flowing quite strongly. Here is information put together by The Friends of Madera Canyon that you will find very helpful. http://www.friendsofmaderacanyon.org/sky_islands.html 


   Madera Creek


 Sycamore Leaves




Learn about bats and bat houses here: http://www.batcon.org/resources/getting-involved/install-a-bat-house


Bat Houses by Friends of Madera Canyon


I never tire of visiting Madera but I especially like to go very early in the morning because I only have to share it with one or two others and frankly I tend to see more wildlife. It's also very quiet at that time and while I have had some very interesting conversations with visitors over the years a little solitude once in a while is good for the spirit.
Learn more about the Arizona Sycamore here: http://www.fireflyforest.com/flowers/2155/platanus-wrightii-arizona-sycamore/

  
View out towards Baboquivari and the Quinlan Mountains


Elephant Rock




We saw a flock of a dozen Wild Turkey once on the way in and again on the way back out. Read about the Wild Turkey here: http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/wild_turkey/id



Wild Turkey

Monday, November 3, 2014

Tucson Mountain Park

Golden Gate Mountain

The other day I was returning from the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum's Ironwood Gallery which is located within the confines of Tucson Mountain Park and I decided to stop along the way and take a few photos of the mountains. It was around 4:30 in the afternoon and the light had a nice golden color and was already fairly low in the sky producing some very nice long shadows. Golden Gate is in the Tucson Mountain Range and is part of the 20,000 acres that make up TMP which includes 62 miles of trails open to hikers, horseback riders and mountain bike riders. TMP is the largest natural resource area owned and managed by a local government in the United States.


I live just outside the park boundary and have a nice view of Golden Gate from the house and I often marvel at how different the mountain looks from my side. There is a trail that leads from my house through the saddle to Gates Pass that is a good hike with some pretty fantastic views back towards Tucson and once you get the Gates Pass you can see expansive views of TMP. Trail maps can be found on Kinney Road and at Gates Pass overlook. Great place to hike this time of year.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Along the Southern Border in Arizona

Nan and I just returned from a trip down along the southern border with Mexico. Without a doubt there are some great places to go bird watching in the southern part of the state including the San Pedro Riparian Conservation Area and Whitewater Draw Conservation Area both within a few hours of Tucson. San Pedro is just outside Sierra Vista and encompasses nearly 57,000 acres that stretch from the border to St. David Az. where the river meanders for nearly 40 miles. San Pedro is considered one of the most important riparian areas in the United States and is home to 100 species of mammals as well as 100 species of breeding birds. Even though our visit was brief we spotted this Western Screech Owl in an ancient Cottonwood.
Learn about the Western Screech Owl at: http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Western_Screech-Owl/id

Western Screech Owl

After leaving San Pedro we headed to Bisbee, Arizona for lunch at the Copper Queen Hotel which was built between 1898 and 1902 by the Phelps Dodge Mining Company. Unfortunately the dining room was closed when we arrived but they did offer a complete menu in the Copper Queen Saloon. Nan and I both love spaghetti so it was an easy choice for us and I have to say it was delicious. Everyone we met at the Copper Queen was friendly and they had no problem with me taking a few photos while we waited for lunch to be ready.
 The Copper Queen is like stepping back into history which is something I like to do from time to time and I have to admit that I really enjoyed the overall atmosphere in Bisbee which become a haven for artists and artisans over the years.
You can read more about the Copper Queen here: http://www.copperqueen.com/about-us.html


Parlor at the Copper Queen Hotel

After lunch we decided to head to Douglas via route 80 which takes you past the Copper Queen open pit mine which in it's day was considered the countries best producer of copper with smaller amounts of gold and silver as well. Sadly open pit mining is not kind to the earth as evidenced by the photo below. It should be abundantly clear to everyone by now that if we continue to allow the currant rate of population growth more and more destruction of the planet in search of resources will be a given.


Copper Queen Mine


The road to Douglas has some interesting geological formations along the way and as you approach the town you can see a large section of the border fence just to the south of route 80. I can't help but wonder about the disruption to wildlife that the fence causes and what the long term consequences might be. Not only does it isolate the people who lived here together for centuries from one another but it also prevents the natural passage of animals from one country to the other. It cuts off some animals from their water sources and I'm certain it has had a great unbalancing effect on nature all along it's massive length. 

Tiffany Stained Glass Windows at the Gadsden

We stayed overnight at the Gadsden Hotel which opened a little over 100 years ago in 1907. I enjoyed photographing their magnificent lobby with it's Tiffany stained glass windows and huge stately columns. We were pretty tired when we arrived at the hotel so we decided to go to the store and get water for the trip to Whitewater Draw in the morning. We drove past the Port of Entry and could see how the fence had cut the town pretty much in half. It must be very strange to live for hundreds of years side by side an then all of the sudden have a fence take that away.



Sandhill Cranes Return to Whitewater

We headed to Whitewater Draw to hopefully photograph the Sandhills but the picture above is as close as we ever got to them because of huh water forcing them to land a great distance from our location. We did observe about 150 of the birds returning to roost while we were there. We will more than likely plan a trip to the conservation area late December when the water has receded some and the shear numbers of cranes will give us a chance to get much closer.


White faced Ibises

This flock of White Faced Ibises circled our location for quite a while trying to use a thermal to gain height before disappearing to where ever they where off to. We also watched a Belted Kingfisher feeding from an observation platform and a Western Grebe darting in and out of the marsh grasses, diving for food.
Learn about the Western Grebe at: http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Western_Grebe/id
                          White-faced Ibis at: http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/White-faced_Ibis/id
                          Belted Kingfisher at: http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/belted_kingfisher/id


This did not turn out to be the photo opportunity that I had hoped for because most of the birds kept their distance probably because they haven't gotten used to to birdwatchers invading their space yet. I suspect that later in the season they won't be so skittish as their numbers increase along with the number of people watching them does too. Nan was fortunate enough to see a pair of Red Tails latch onto each other and spiral downward toward the earth and releasing just before impact and soaring back into the sky.
Read about Red-tailed Hawks at: http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Red-tailed_Hawk/id


Whitewater Draw

Sometimes it takes more than one trip to accomplish decent photos but Nan and I were both happy to be out in nature alone as there were no other people there during our visit. On our next visit I hope to see Sandhills in the thousands, flocks of Snow Geese and hundreds if not thousands of ducks.