Rock Corral Canyon

Our first full day in AZ started ridiculously early. We had a 45 minute drive to meet our birding group, so we were up well before the sun… at 3:45 am.Β  Ugh! Our group met at 5:15 and drove south from Tucson towards the Tumacacori Mountains and what was promised as a “secluded canyon birding tour”.

Rock Corral Canyon is fabulously remote. It’s reached via a short, and very rough dirt/boulder-strewn road that leads west from I-19 between Tucson and Nogales. Luckily, we were able to carpool with someone who had a high clearance 4WD vehicle and so were able to enjoy the views along the way. In the middle of the thorny-scrub and ocotillos, we spotted this Antelope Jackrabbit working very hard at being invisible.

Look at those legs! Look at those ears! Look at those eyes! Wowza that’s not any ordinary bunny rabbit… so cool to see this fella.

Not having grown up around mountains or the desert, I had no real idea of what birding in the canyons of Arizona would be like. My first impression was that it was much more green than I had expected, but I guess that even a small change in elevation gives way to a cooler and moister climate for plants to grown in. It being monsoon season meant that there was water flowing in the wash where we had to walk which also meant slow and careful stepping on the rocky trail.

We got one of Jay’s target birds here – can you see it?

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I’m not certain that I ever really got a nice look at this Canyon Wren because it was hiding in the shadows of the rock wall, but its song was lovely!

Photo by Roberto Gonzalez

Have a listen to the Canyon Wren’s song here at the Cornell Lab site.

We also saw a couple new tanagers there – Western and Hepatic – and quite a few Varied Buntings and some lifer vireos that I don’t even remember. Yikes! The most difficult thing about that first day was that everything was new – all the plants, animals, birds, sounds, etc. in a new environment were almost overwhelming – so I mostly tried to focus on enjoying myself in the unfamiliar surroundings. We spent a couple hours exploring until the flowing water and necessary climbing made us have to turn back… there was lemonade and cookies before we headed out to our next stop.

To be continued…

De colores: Tucson’s barrio viejo

I’m not really sure how other people go about planning vacations, but we tend to do it by the seat of our pants. This trip to Southeast Arizona was one that Jay and I had been vaguely talking about for years, but it had never gone beyond mulling it over as something to do “someday”. Out of the blue one Sunday afternoon, we just decided to go, bought the plane tickets, made lodging accommodations, and signed ourselves up for a couple birding field trips. Just like that.

I love this about us, love the spontaneity of it, but it also makes me a little nuts.

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I’m not a person who likes surprises really, but the anxiety involved in properly planning and anticipating a trip is almost worse, so I guess the way this trip happened was perfect. In the short time that I had to plan, I researched the Tucson area for things we might do to fill our time when we weren’t out looking for birds.

Arizona: Desert, cacti, mountains, and some canyons, grand and scenic, right?

I dug past the obvious and the first thing I came up with was a visit to the Barrio Viejo: Tucson’s “old neighborhood” – it’s filled with 19th century adobe homes and businesses that preserve the old architectural styles. Sadly, much of the northern parts of the neighborhood were destroyed in the 60’s and 70’s whenΒ  Mexican-American families were displaced as the area became gentrified.

Those that are left are well-tended and beautiful. So colorful and vibrant. Despite the ridiculous heat that first afternoon, I wanted to keep exploring because at every turn there was something delightful.

I have the sense, too, that the community is as vibrant on the inside as it appears from the outside. It felt like a neighborhood that loves where it lives and engages with its neighbors in (sometimes) surprising ways.

For example, the photo above – the Taco Cristo, one of a cast of saints appearing throughout the barrio. I’d sought this mural out after seeing a photo of it on Instagram. To find it painted on the side of a shed, in a dusty backyard next to a raspado stand, facing an alley, brought me an irreverent sense of joy .

Doesn’t Jesus holding a taco make you giggle, too?

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I loved the colors of this neighborhood and the way that each home distinguished itself from the one beside it. The photographer in me delighted in the contrasts of color and texture and the use (or lack) of garden plantings.

Who would think that cacti and other desert plants could be so beautiful and versatile?Β  I learned that cacti take on a range of shapes and colors, and their spines can capture the sunlight to make them glow. They somehow make you want to touch them, despite knowing better!

This street portrait of poet Jim Harrison was another pleasant surprise, also facing an alley for passerby to enjoy. Harrison wintered in nearby Patagonia, Arizona and is something of a model to me of how to enjoy the local culture.

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I wish we’d had more time to explore and more tolerance for the heat, but I think someday I’ll find myself back in the barrio, camera in hand.