I regularize now that I have not completely exhausted my stories and photos from Arizona. Here’s another.
The disadvantage of having a short trip like this Swarovski Social Media Conference in a blazing hotspot like southeast Arizona is that it is impossible to leave without wanting more. I had arranged my flights in and out of Arizona in the hopes that I would be able to tack on a couple trips on travel days when others were more indisposed. I have to say that this plan worked with hardly a hitch. The last morning in Arizona my flight didn’t leave till mid-afternoon, which meant I had the entire morning available for a half day trip to a very local site. Mike Bergin, of 10,000 Birds fame, had similar ideas, and together we prepared to take off to Sweetwater Wetlands in Tucson, but first we had to drop Outfoor Afro‘s Rue Mapp off at the airport, and we still hadn’t found one other target species, that paragon of southwesterness, the Greater Roadrunner.
We didn’t have to go far, just around the corner of the hotel actually, and with Swarovski’s Clay Taylor at the wheel we pulled up to a vacant, weedy lot. Almost instantly, a roadrunner bolted across the road with a lizard in its beak.
It stalled when it finally hit a little cover, before scooting it’s recently fledged chick out across the road to where we could gawk at it at our leisure.
I like the photo above because it’s a classic desert shot. You’ve got the sandy soil, the barrel cactus, and the roadrunner posed perfectly. You’d never realize that it’s a landscaped island in the middle of a storage facility parking lot. But that’s how roadrunner roll, they’re urban birds in the southwest; equally at home in the middle of Tucson as they are out in the boonies.
In this photo you can see the asphalt parking lot peeking through in the corner. The illusion is shattered.
Roadrunners are strange birds, essentially giant ground cuckoos – the genus, Geococcyx, literally translates to “ground-cuckoo” – who specialize in running down their prey, which includes just about anything they’re able to catch. I’ve seen them now in two states, both Arizona and Texas, where they skulk through the mesquite brushlands of the coastal plain, a habitat somewhat different than this classic desert landscape. My dad finds them up in Missouri, though, where in the years since my departure they’ve become something of a fixture in the Ozarks, even hanging out around feeding stations in suburban Springfield hunting down skinks and even small birds when they can catch them. We used to seek them out on the Taney County Christmas Bird Count, though I’ve never had much luck personally. It’s still a bird that’s missing for me. Though I have to say there’s something odd about seeing them on a super-green lawn, as in the video linked above.
But in Arizona? That’s their ancestral home. So it’s nice to pay homage to the bird precisely where it’s supposed to be.