In preparation for the Tucson Valley Christmas Bird Count on December 14 (for which I’m the primary compiler), this past Saturday I made a workout of biking to and hiking Pima Canyon, in the foothills just a few miles north of where I live. I’m planning on doing the Finger Rock Canyon trail to Mt. Kimball and back, which is the distance and elevational change equivalent of hiking into the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back. One should be fit, and that I am not.
That day was the day of Tucson’s largest annual biking event, El Tour de Tucson, and as I biked up First Ave and approached Ina Road, part of the race’s route, I came across this incredibly stupidly placed sign alerting northbound drivers to expect exceptional bike traffic ahead. It’s impossible for me to put myself in head of the county worker who placed this sign, completely blocking the bike path for any cyclists not part of the race. Could he have not been aware that was a bike lane? Or unaware that people bike in Tucson other than on that single day? I’m convinced that headlines such as “Tucson region receives 'Gold Award' as bicycle friendly community” are completely spurious political favors and have no basis in reality. But don’t get me started. Yes, I moved the sign, after the city police prepared to direct traffic at the intersection ahead shrugged their shoulders and said "not my problem – that's a county road." If was mad to begin with, I became furious.
It was indeed a good workout, and I pumped the frustration out of my circulation, biking almost entirely uphill all the way, followed by a rigorous hike of 1 ¼ miles through hilly desert before I reached birdable riparian habitat. Here’s a view of the most lush section of canyon bottom with two kinds of willow and Fremont Cottonwood, among a huge diversity of shrubs and vines.
This is where I located this Bell's Vireo, almost certainly the same bird that Paul Suchanek had in this area the past two winters. Though he only had it while scouting before the Christmas Bird Count last year, we had bad weather on the CBC day, making finding birds difficult. When he found it on the CBC two years ago, it was the first in the Tucson Valley CBC’s 44-year history. I think there are only a couple other winter records for elsewhere in SE Arizona. This bird lacks the bright yellow flanks and greener back of the eastern subspecies, so I’d guess that it comes from the northern edge of the SW subspecies’ breeding range in Utah or Nevada and anomalously migrates just this far.
I pished and tooted up a few mixed flock of residents and winter birds. The Black-tailed Gnatcatchers are here year-round and have apparently had very good breeding success recently – I tallied 16 on my eBird submission.
I had only about three Rufous-crowned Sparrows, but they are at the lower edge of their elevational range here (they don’t know the elevation, but their distinctive preferred habitat of open brushy and rocky slopes with bunch grasses is more continuous higher up).
A Spotted Towhee was either a local altitudinal migrant or a medium-distance migrant from the northern tier of US states or southern Canada; I suspect the latter, but I don’t think you can tell from the plumage characteristics here.
It’s been unbelievably warm with no real cold fronts yet this season, so arthropods were in full abundance. This is Archilestes grandis, the Great Spreadwing.
The larger of these two wasps on Coreocarpus arizonicus, Little Lemonhead is a female in the family Scoliidae and genus Campsomeris. I have no idea about the other, but it might be a male of the same species.