Monday, September 5, 2011

The Desert for Dessert

I treated myself this Labor Day with a trip to the Desert Botanical Gardens in southeast Phoenix, and it was a most satisfying trip to conclude a busy couple weeks of work and birding. Although I did not get to add a lot of new species to my list, I managed to get a lot of photography practice and add to existing blog entries with much better pictures. Be sure to see the full updates for Roadrunners, Lesser Goldfinches, Curve-Billed Thrashers, Verdins and Cactus Wrens (click on pictures for larger images).

The Gardens host a weekly bird walk on Monday morning at 7 a.m., and since I won't be having many free Mondays for a while, I really wanted to make the most of this adventure. Things started off promisingly, as I spotted Cactus Wrens, Gambel's Quail, Curve-Billed Thrashers, and the normal medley of doves before even entering the actual Gardens. However, I was getting pretty frustrated by 7:30 or so, at which point I had not seen anything that wasn't visible on the other side of the gate and that didn't require a $10 admission fee. It was a fleeting fickleness though, and once I found the right spots in the maze of prickly botany, the more exciting birds began to appear.

Steve and Gina (let me know if I misremembered your names!), 
two migrants who flew in from Chicago. Nice folks.

The photography started in earnest with the Cactus Wrens and Verdins, who were not at all shy about showing their capable maneuvering through mesquite tangles. There is a very small riparian area wherein I saw a few frogs, turtles, and two Green Herons (not photographed this time) before pursuing a Curve-Billed Thrasher into the undergrowth on the other side of the path. I was rewarded with some decent shots of him thrashing, and I also interrupted the breakfast of a rather chubby ground squirrel, but I was soon distracted by the yellow flash in a nearby palo verde tree. Of course, it had to be my great nemesis, the Wilson's Warbler.                                                                             
While I fruitlessly circled round the tree trunk trying to gain favorable lighting and visibility over my quarry, I also saw a Western Tanager land in the canopy. He too, proved to be too obscured for a decent picture (yes, even I have standards), but it was at this time that I turned to see a magnificent Greater Roadrunner casually sauntering by, only to emerge minutes later with a tasty lizard clasped firmly in his beak. I then spent a good period of time trying to capture the motion of a Gila Woodpecker as it busied itself with carpentry, but with poor lighting and somewhat hidden subject, I met with little success. Spirits still very high, I abandoned the warbler and explored the wildflower garden, and found a healthy population of Lesser Goldfinches, Cactus Wrens, Black-Throated Sparrows, Aberts Towhees, and even a juvenile Yellow  Warbler. I also joined with a couple who flew  down from Chicago (we're talking people  now) and we explored the garden together, enjoying the goldfinch antics and the shade as  the sun rose higher in the sky. The Rosy Faced Lovebirds were also well-represented, and before I turned in for lunch I had a decent glimpse of a Ladder-Backed Woodpecker and even a Cordilleran Flycatcher, which added a new bird to my list with the last photo of the day.

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