Tucson, AZ, August 2012 – When you get a bunch of bird bloggers together, which you do you imagine comes first: birds or blogs? Swarovski Optik confirmed the obvious answer rather quickly when the SONA group invited a bunch of us to Tucson for a Social Media Summit. As soon as Sharon, Nate, Laura, and I convened at the airport, we coerced Clay Taylor, Naturalist Market Manager for Swarovski Optik North America, into an afternoon of birding, 100-degree heat be damned. Actually, Clay never needs to be convinced too hard to chase birds and, since he knows just about every birding hotspot in North America like the back of his hand, we arrived in no time at Agua Caliente Park.
Hot Mallards, both pure and manky
Spanish speakers can trust that Agua Caliente is aptly named, but the birds can be as hot as the water. Common species like Lesser Goldinch, White-winged Dove, and Verdin quickly gave way to more rarified fare. For example, in the shade of some palms, we discovered a female Blue-throated Hummingbird feeding a juvenile. Where else can you see something like that?!
The attraction of Southeastern Arizona in summer stems from the presence of certain highly range-restricted species. Such an observation explains why the hottest bird of the day happened to be a sparrow, not even the most attractive one we spotted. Brown-capped Flycatcher and Gila Woodpecker are southeastern birds, but not that tough to find outside the area. Greater Roadrunners are always a pleasure to spy, but also relatively easy to come by. Rufous-winged Sparrow, however, makes up in rarity what it lacks in plumage that isn’t brown, gray, or white! These beautiful sparrows with finely-streaked crowns and rufescent epulets only reside in a small swathe of Arizona and Mexico. This lent the fellow we found gleaning the grass far more charisma than the larger, more boldy colored Lark Sparrow that landed beside it. I believe there’s a life lesson to be learned here.
Agua Caliente, like every other place in the Tucson area, is also awesome for insects and herps. For example, we ran into a fleet of fascinating lizards such as Ornate Tree Lizard, Sonoran Racerunner, and Zebra-tailed Lizard. But eventually, the blistering heat chased us to higher ground, which led us to one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever had the pleasure to find life birds in. Next stop… Mt. Lemmon.