Friday, February 28, 2020

Backroads Day 3 AM - Desert Museum - 25 Feb 2020

Wow. Up at 4 am. Again. But, that's ok, I have a chance to work on images and blog for Day 2 of our Backroads Tour of southern Arizona. Today, we will be visiting the Sonora Desert Museum located on the west side of Tuscon near Saguaro National Park West. The plan is to NOT ride today, but spend the day hiking the desert next to the museum.  

As we sat and ate breakfast at the Tubac Golf Resort and Spa we had spectacular views of the Arizona sunrise. 

We needed to have our bags packed and ready to go at 7:30 am so we didn't dally at the breakfast table. I would take the time to look for the Vermilion Flycatchers one last time before our departure at 8 am. The birds would not disappoint. The male Vermilion was off flycatching near the golf course and perched high on the tree next to our casita, while the female perched closer to the camera lens. They both then flew off toward the 19th hole...

Meanwhile, as the Backroads crew of Lindsey, Abby, Daysha and Justin prepared the van and trailers for the day I wandered onto the golf course and photographed passing Gold-fronted Woodpeckers and Eurasian Collared-Doves

When we finally took off we had an hour drive back to Tuscon and arrived at the Desert Museum around 9:30 am. The plan was to visit the museum for an hour or so, then ride Saguaro West National Park and Gates Pass (27 mi and 1560 ft elevation) to lunch at the Mercado in Tuscon. 

I’m blaming Lindsey and Abby for my opting not to ride today. They said that there’d be hummingbirds at the Sonoran Desert Museum this morning, and I could skip riding to spend more time there. Done! We spent close to 2 hours exploring the exhibits and the outdoor trails. I didn’t even get to the entrance of the museum before my attention was directed to a Cactus Wren singing away in the trees at the edge of the parking lot. 

 A volunteer was showing a captive Barn Owl to several visitors, and I took the opportunity to grab a photo or two.

We then entered the museum and headed to the gardens. The Hummingbird Aviary was just around the corner, but a male Costa’s Hummingbird was soaking up the morning sun on a tree branch overhead. I was hoping for more gorget pics, but a nice wing stretch made for a happy consolation. 

I entered the hummingbird house and immediately was greeted by a female Broad-billed Hummingbird that was building a nest in a low-hanging vine next to the door. She was adding moss and tiny strips of grape vine that she’d peel from the various vines scattered throughout the habitat. 

This is perhaps my favorite image of the trip to date; the nest was severely backlit in the low light of the habitat but pushing exposure in Photoshop brought out a magnificent image of her tending house. I absolutely love this image and will probably hang it at home.

 As I continued around the small habitat I found a gorgeous male Broad-billed Hummingbird posing in the morning light. Though these images may be considered zoo captures I’m thrilled with the captures.

 A male Rufous Hummingbird posed on a tiny snag while visitors photographed it just inches away with their cell phones. Flash photography is not allowed, but it turns out not to be necessary. 

 I didn’t stay long, but continued walking the trails looking for wild birds. A pair of Canyon Towhees were foraging on at the foot of a path that was closed to the Raptor in Flight program, but I stepped in long enough to get some photos.

 The program was featuring a pair of Chihuahan Ravens that were flying around, and I grabbed a complimentary flight shot before being chased away by a ranger. I would have to walk completely around the museum grounds to reach the visitor’s area even through I was literally 20 yards from the crowd.

The grounds are magnificent, and hold desert gardens for bees, hummingbirds, and insects. Spring bloom in the desert is only a week away, but already there are hints of flowers beginning to bloom.

I found the mammal area and saw habitats created for Bighorn Sheep, Mexican Gray Wolves, and even underground rodents. I would miss seeing a Gray Fox in a tree, and a Javelina running through its habitat.

But, I was distracted by the haunting call of a Canyon Wren. I rushed over and found a pair of birds foraging among boulders and took the opportunity to photograph them at close range. This officially made up for not having binoculars in 2003 when I was last in the Grand Canyon and could not enjoy the Canyon Wrens singing nearby.


 As I followed the signs toward the raptor program another Cactus Wren made an appearance nearby and invited some nice portraits as it sang in the morning sun. 

By the time I’d get to the program it was breaking up, so I followed the crowds along the trails into the open desert where I took a few photos of the landscape. Since we were expected back at the trailers by noon, I started heading back to look for Robin and join the rest of the gang. I stopped long enough to photograph a pair of Inca Doves that were courting on a nearby cactus. As I left the museum an Arizona Rock Squirrel was sunning itself on the porch ledge.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Backroads Day 2 - Tumacacori Route - 24 Feb 2020

Today's ride would be starting at 9:45 am, so naturally I was up at 4 am working on photos and blogs... Robin and I headed to breakfast at 6 am and saw a wonderful sunrise over the golf course. The air was crisp at 30F but skies were absolutely clear as the Sun began to rise over the mountains.

With the late start I decided to walk around a bit and see if I could pick up any birds. A pair of Song Sparrows were foraging under the hedges just outside our casita. The light was too low to get any decent pics, so I continued on to the ponds to try to photograph the dozens of American Wigeon that were swimming and whistling in the cool morning air. Again, lighting was bad, so I continued on. Eurasian Collared Doves and woodpeckers were uncooperative, so I headed back feeling a bit dejected.

Things turned around real quick when I spotted a gorgeous male Vermilion Flycatcher in the tree just outside our door! It was building a nest and providing some gorgeous photo opps in the early morning sunlight.

It was now time to head out, so Robin and I grabbed helmets and headed to the vans where we'd be driven to Pena Blanca Lake for a 26-mile ride to the Tumacacori Mission (2nd oldest European Mission in Arizona). The large reservoir was lovely and deserved a few photos before the ride. I managed to photograph a Ruby-crowned Kinglet and a see a Green-tailed Towhee.

So as not to finish last like yesterday we took off first thing and headed out on the road. I wore the    Go-Pro Hero 7 on my camera harness today as I figured it would be more stable than the handle bars from yesterday's ride. I also lengthened the time to 60 sec intervals between photos, and used JPG instead of RAW (yesterday I had photos being taken every 5 seconds, so 2000+ photos was a lot to process). The Go-Pro worked pretty well!

Winds were picking up this morning, so with bumpy roads, some steep hills, and the wind whistling through our helmets we didn't stop to look for birds. I did stop long enough to photograph some of the Mexican Golden Poppies that had sprouted along the roadside. Otherwise, things were very quiet.

A Say's Phoebe was foraging on someone's lawn as we passed through town. I was too slow with the camera.

Between the wind and traffic the ride was challenging. To make things worse I started having camera issues. Below is a photo of me taking a photo of a Chihuahan Raven that was sitting on an overhead power line. Note the band of glare on the left side of the image. When I turned the camera to photograph a bird across the street the glare completely blinded the image. I couldn't figure out why.

It wasn't until we finally arrived at Tumacacori National Park that I found the reason: the 1.4X teleconverter I was using was loose and half off the camera. The tiny screws that hold the converter together had come loose and caused the converter to pull away from the camera mount. Not only that, but the camera fell off the lens that was attached to the neck strap. I managed to catch it before hitting the ground, but my thumb left a print on the sensor. Ugh...

We decided to call it a day, but before leaving we'd tour the mission. I took some photos of the mission itself, but wanted to look for birds along the riverbed nearby.

I managed to find another Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, then found a Bewick's Wren singing nearby.

A pair of Rufous-crowned Sparrows flew by and stopped long enough for a single photo.

I then wandered into the orchard and found a Black Phoebe foraging in the small trees.

I then headed back to the van and Justin was kind enough to give us a ride back to to Tubac.

After a few hours of rest the party met for a ride to dinner at Wisdom's Cafe.  Everyone enjoyed a wonderful meal that included a tequila tasting and musical entertainment from Waldo Sr. and Waldo Jr.

Tomorrow we leave Tubac and head back north toward Saguaro West and Gate's Pass for a bike ride to the Hacienda de la Sol, our next stay.

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