This past week, between my cooking in Gambell and a private tour to the Yucatan, I squeezed in a private tour for a 10-year-old enthusiastic birder, her mom, and her grandmother – three generations of birders. The outdoor-oriented Kathleen not only memorized the bird list and knew what to expect with each and every of her 100+ lifebirds, but she was an amazing lizard-catcher. Here she is with an Ornate Tree Lizard at Catalina State Park. I'm sure the lizard was at least as surprised as I was.
We then drove up to the higher elevations of the Santa Catalina mountains where Pygmy Nuthatch, Mountain Chickadee, and Red-faced Warbler were some nice birds.
While we stopped at a convenience store in NE Tucson, this Merry Melipotis Moth (Melipotis jucunda) fluttered down from the entrance door.
The next day found us in Huachuca Canyon on Fort Huachuca where this Buff-breasted Flycatcher hung out in the parking area.
Elegant Trogon was one of our most wanted birds, and we were surprised to actually stumble upon the nest. Both birds went in and out of the cavity while we watched from a distance.
This Butterfly Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa ssp. interior) was blooming in Miller Canyon below the area where the pair of Spotted Owls were roosting.
Kathleen was delighted to hold this baby Mountain Spiny Lizard that we found along the trail.
But I was even more excited to finally find my first Texas Horned Lizards the next morning at Whitewater Draw State Wildlife Area. There were two in the road, probably feeding on harvester ants, and I caught one while Kathleen caught the other. The lizard itself is a favorite food for the Swainson's Hawks that nest in the valley.
This scoliid wasp (Campsomeris toteca) landed on Kathleen's mom while we were at Whitewater Draw. The adult female will feed on nectar but finds beetle grubs underground to sting and lay its eggs on.
A pair of Great Horned Owls was roosting in the old hay barn at Whitewater Draw.
Back up in the higher elevations, this time in the Chiricahua Mountains, we walked a short ways up the Morse Canyon Trail up West Turkey Creek where we looked for and eventually found Mexican Chickadee. Red-faced Warbler, Painted Redstart, Grace's Warbler, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, and Magnificent Hummingbird were just some of the other birds we found here.
The lovely Golden Columbine (Aquilegia chrysantha) was by the stream.
The very range-restricted Orange-edged Roadside-Skipper. It's essentially the Mexican Chickadee among the butterflies in the U.S., confined to just a couple isolated mountain ranges in this country.
In the lower parts of West Turkey Creek we had to make a stop for these stunning Rainbow Cactus (Echinocereus pectinatus var. pectinatus).
In the Sonoita Grasslands we made a stop for Grasshopper and Botteri's Sparrow and paused to admire several interesting composites. This is Chocolate Flower or Lyreleaf Greeneyes (Berlandiera lyrata). The flowers smell very strongly of chocolate.
False Boneset (Brickellia eupatorioides var. chlorolepis)
Hopi Tea Greenthread (Thelesperma megapotamicum)
Large stands of Soaptree Yucca (Yucca elata) are blooming in response to the excellent late winter rains we received.
Our final birding stop was Sweetwater Wetlands where this Least Tern was a good find.
We saw several of these colorful Desert Spiny Lizards in full breeding colors at Sweetwater, but they were too warm and wary even for Kathleen.