Tucson Sojourn


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February 17th 2009
Published: February 17th 2009
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Two weeks in Tucson have allowed us to savor this marvelous city with all of its nearby natural wonders. Southeast Arizona is truly a naturalist's paradise. But, alas, even here trouble looms on the horizon.

The captions of our 47 photos will tell the story.


Additional photos below
Photos: 47, Displayed: 22


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Living in the desertLiving in the desert
Living in the desert

The birding around Cactus Country RV Resort has been great and our understanding of the western desert is improving.
Jumping ChollaJumping Cholla
Jumping Cholla

One of the most interesting (and annoying) cacti is the so-called jumping cholla (seen to the right of the trail).
Jumping ChollaJumping Cholla
Jumping Cholla

The jumping cholla disperses by dropping off small, spine-laden pieces that stick to about anything (shown here is Jon's boot).
Jumping ChollaJumping Cholla
Jumping Cholla

It produces wounds that are quite painful and the spines are difficult to remove. Moxie quickly learned to stay away from the jumping cholla!
Black-throated SparrowBlack-throated Sparrow
Black-throated Sparrow

Many of the winter inhabitants of the desert are sparrows. Of these, one of the most attractive and abundant is the black-throated sparrow.
So where is the snow shovel?So where is the snow shovel?
So where is the snow shovel?

Although we arrived in Tucson with high temperatures of 85°F, reality eventually caught up with us.
Snow-covered CactusSnow-covered Cactus
Snow-covered Cactus

We woke one morning to a substantial covering of snow in the valley floor (about 3000 feet). Later in the day, the temperature reached 46°F and it remained cold for several days.
Sonoran Desert MuseumSonoran Desert Museum
Sonoran Desert Museum

One "must see" attraction is the Sonoran Desert Museum, located about 30 minutes to the west of Tucson in the Saguaro National Park.
Antelope Ground SquirrelAntelope Ground Squirrel
Antelope Ground Squirrel

The museum presents most of the desert flora and fauna in a pleasing, natural setting.
Inca DoveInca Dove
Inca Dove

This species, along with the common ground dove, are year-round inhabitants of SE Arizona. The Inca dove prefers suburban habitats.
Gambel's quailGambel's quail
Gambel's quail

Flocks of this bird are common in shrubby desert. Males have the elaborate head plumes.
Broad-billed hummingbirdBroad-billed hummingbird
Broad-billed hummingbird

The eastern US has a very depauperate hummingbird fauna (one species) compared with the western US. This species is one of 16 commonly seen hummingbirds west of thee Mississippi.
Gila woodpeckerGila woodpecker
Gila woodpecker

This woodpecker, relative of our eastern Red-bellied woodpecker, regularly makes nest cavities in the saguaro cactus. These cavities can later be occupied by other species, such as the pygmy owl.
Sweetwater MarshesSweetwater Marshes
Sweetwater Marshes

No birding trip is complete without a visit to a waste water treatment facility. The Sweetwater marshes are a great example of wetland reconstruction.
Sweetwater MarshesSweetwater Marshes
Sweetwater Marshes

Northern shovelers were most common during our visit, but we also saw at least 12 additional species of waterfowl. Flocks of yellow-headed blackbirds (one of Jon's favorite birds) we also present.
Harris hawksHarris hawks
Harris hawks

This trio of Harris hawks is probably a family group. The Harris hawk is one of only a few hawk species that hunts cooperatively.
Cienega Creek Nature PreserveCienega Creek Nature Preserve
Cienega Creek Nature Preserve

Visiting this area required a permit from Pima County. It includes extensive riparian (stream-side) habitat. In desert areas, riparian areas are critical habitat for many birds. The large patch of cottonwoods in the distance shows the location of the creek.
Cienega Creek Nature PreserveCienega Creek Nature Preserve
Cienega Creek Nature Preserve

Cienega Creek, with its cottonwood and willows, is important habitat for both migrants and breeding birds.
Cienega Creek Nature PreserveCienega Creek Nature Preserve
Cienega Creek Nature Preserve

Commerce passes through the preserve.
Catalina State ParkCatalina State Park
Catalina State Park

This 5500-acre park is in the Santa Catalina Mountains just northeast of Tucson. It includes large areas of Sonoran Desert habitat.
Catalina State ParkCatalina State Park
Catalina State Park

The saguaro cactus symbolizes the Sonorian desert. They can grow to 50 ft (15 m). Other plants of this desertscrub community include creosote bush, acacia, ocotillo, and mesquite.


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