In Arizona, even the water is hot
August is a very hot month in Arizona. Perhaps that comes as no surprise. They say it’s a “dry heat”, hough I’m convinced that argument sort of loses steam at about 110 degrees. Tucson in the summer feels like stepping to a car that’s been sitting in the sun for 8 hours. Except you can’t turn on the A/C to make things more comfortable. Hot is hot, no matter the humidity.
I rolled into Arizona Thursday morning and was picked up at the airport by the estimable Clay Taylor of Swarovski. I, along with a handful of celebrity bird bloggers, was in town for a blogger summit of sorts. An opportunity for Swarovski to pick out brains on this social media thing and for us to chat with each other about or respective blogging philosophies. One of the things I’ve always really like about the bird blogging community, such that it still exists after its peak in 2008 or so (pre-Facebook, natch), is that we’ve always felt we’re in this together. We long-time bloggers, and those that have come before and since, have always held to the idea that a rising tide lifts all boats. Good content gets spread around; increasing traffic for one increases exposure for all. And, of course, we all have an interest in promoting birding as a means to increase our own readership and our own opportunities. There’s a compulsion that drives some of us to write about birds online, but I certainly can’t deny that it’s nice from time to time to get something out of a project you put so much in to. I’ve been very lucky with this bird blog racket.
Anywho, once the morning and early afternoon flights came in a group consisting of myself, Clay, Mike Bergin of 10,000 Birds, Sharon Stiteler of Birdchick, and Laura Kammermeier, headed out into the overwhelming heat to look for anything that is dumb enough to fly in it. Our choice, Agua Caliente Park, translated from Spanish as “Hot Water”. See? No one gets a break down there. Not even the water.
The site was typical of desert scrub, but even expected desert birds like Vermilion Flycatcher and Black-throated Sparrow failed to materialize in the oppressive desert afternoon. The birding was sort of slow going until we headed back into an old arroyo and turned up a handful of species including Brown-crested Flycatchers and Broad-billed Hummingbirds. I walked away from the group to scope out patch of grass, the closest thing to a lawn you can find in Arizona, and promptly turned up an unusual sparrow.
I knew it was Rufous-something, though for the life of me I couldn’t remember the difference between the winged one and the crowned one. I eventually came down on Rufous-winged, which turned out to be the right one, not to mention the more range-restricted one and a lifer. The first of the trip.
Aqua Caliente quickly became Personas Calientes so we beat a hasty retreat for the relative comfort of Mount Lemmon, the peak of the Santa Catalina mountains that looms over Tucson. As we climbed higher and higher the temperature became much more bearable, and even though the birding was still slow, at least we didn’t feel like we were roasting on a slow spit. At one of the stops I found this Ornate Tree Lizard, my first herp of the trip, and a reminder that identifying spiny lizards in the southwest is sort of akin to identifying silent Empids in the east. Namely, freaking hard.
We had aims of getting to the top of the mountain, but that didn’t happen. Instead, once we reached the Sycamore/Fir belt, Clay pulled over at an overlook and busted out the Western Screech-Owl tape. We were promptly bombarded by a small flock of warblers, including the stunning Arizona specialty, Painted Redstart. Now, we’re birding Arizona.
Before leaving a short half hour later, we had brought in Black-throated Gray Warbler, Arizona Woodpecker and Hutton’s Vireo too. Not a bad haul for a brief pre-dinner outing. And it was only the beginning.