Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Whirr Am I?

We followed Mel & Elaine's advice and decided to go along with the bird walk to be held at 7 am at the San Pedro Riparian Area. The motel offers free continental (read: cheap) breakfast, so we partook of their cold cereal and hot cocoa before embarking on our adventure.

We arrived at the SPRA and found a gathering of birders. As I was setting up my gear, Mel (the tall guy with a hat in the middle of the picture) approached me and asked, "Did you see it?"

"See what?" was my curious reply.

He pointed to the top of the tree right beside the parking lot and there perched a Red-tailed Hawk enjoying the early morning sun.

Soon everybody started hitting the southbound trail. Not good, I whispered to Cynthia, most birds we will see will be against the light. Not discouraged by such prospects we ambled along with the group, stopping every now and then to watch the birds pointed out by Alan, a Bureau of Land Management(BLM) volunteer.

Thr circuitous route covered about 3 miles and as we trudged towards the San Pedro House (the visitor center), my left shoulder was already bruised from the more than 10-lb load hefted onto it. The walk added Vesper and Brewer's Sparrows to our life list. Blue Grosbeaks which we found to be very skittish in California are much more friendly here. At the San Pedro House, while everybody was discussing the birds they saw, we lingered a while near the feeders close by. David, another BLM volunteer, suddenly shouted, "White-breasted Nuthatch!", as he pointed to a black and white bird foraging near the base of a tree. Strangely enough, nobody paid attention to David. I, on the other hand, kept clicking away.

It was about 11 am when we left SPRA. We had lunch at Arby's where Cynthia finished off a Chicken Salad sandwich before I could even say "sandwich". Blame it on the 3-mile walk she explained.

After lunch we went to the Huachuca Canyon. According to my reference books there are four canyons that are great places to bird. The first, Ramsey Canyon, we learned, was pretty dead as far as birding was concerned. The 8 mile unpaved road to Carr Canyon is precipitous with numerous hairpin turns so Cynthia and I, acrophobics that we are, agreed not to take that route. We chose Miller Canyon first. It was a 2.5 mile drive of rocky road (not the ice cream) without any zigzag. At the end of the road was Beatty's Ranch and B & B. This place is famous for its hummingbirds (14 species were found in one day!). The hummingbird feeders around the Beatty store did not show much promise but we were told by a couple of birders who were on the way out, that there are more feeders, and consequentially, more birds, further up the trail.

Ignoring the pain on my shoulder, I once again carried my camera gear up a steep slope and finally ended at a relatively flat, albeit small area with chairs and a roof. There we met Lisa Williams, a local, who is also into bird photography (see her work at arizonabirder.com). The place was soothingly quiet that we can hear the whirr of hummingbird wings as if only inches away from our ears. The three of us spent about 2 hours enjoying and photographing the tiny winged wonders of the avian world. (Trivia: Hummingbirds are the only birds that can fly backwards). Here we met the Magnificent Hummingbird, arguably the largest hummer found in the United States.

Having had our fill of Beatty's hummingbird corner, we decided to check out the last canyon in our list. Ash Canyon is about 4 miles south of Miller and has a better (and even shorter) road. The road ended at the front gate of Mary Jo Ballator's B & B and like Beatty's she also had feeders in her yard. Lisa joined us here as well and we had a great time once again with hummingbirds. Our life list was now augmented by Broad-billed and Lucifer Hummingbirds and Mexican Jays. In between shots, we just sat on the patio chairs and took in the beauty of the multi-colored feathered jewels and the serenade of whirring wings that only the Huachuca Canyons can offer.

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