08 November, 2009

Where was Wilma?

The photo posted a few days ago shows rocky desert overlooking a city in a valley where Dennis and I had gone for a long weekend. So, let’s see – close enough to get to fairly quickly from Minnesota with desert and mountains. It must be somewhere in the US southwest. The valley is Sun Valley, the desert is the Sonoran desert, and the city is Phoenix, Arizona. Dennis had half a day of business to tend to, but the rest of the time was a little mini-holiday for us. We stayed a very posh resort at the outskirts of Phoenix (courtesy Dennis’ work) for 3 nights.

Phoenix is located at the northern edge of the Sonoran desert, and it can reach temps that rival those of Baghdad in the summer.  But the fall weather is nearly perfect. While we were there, the daytime highs were about 80F and the lows were in the 50s with no clouds in sight.  

While Dennis was working Friday morning, I went to the gym for an early workout and then cooled down in the refreshing morning air with a short walk to check out the beginning of a hiking path into the desert. It looked promising, so after my shower and breakfast, I grabbed my water bottle and sunscreen (essential here), camera bag and binoculars, and hat and sunglasses, then headed out on the short hiking path. I hiked a fairly rough, but short, trail that went partway up a rocky outcropping and got some pretty nice photos. There were perhaps 15 other people that were hiking there. 

The view shown below is the hillside which the trail ascends about 2/3rd way to the top.

Here is a view of the city of Phoenix.

I love how these chollas look with the sunlight scattered by their pale golden thorns.

And these fishhook barrel cacti have lovely pastel spines.

Previous hikers have left stacks of rocks along the trails.

As I sat still to wait for wildlife to resume activities, I saw a pair of black-throated sparrows busily gathering seeds.  They were only about 8 feet away from me, but were not deterred by my presence or the clicks of the camera.

After watching the sparrows for a bit I moved on to another vantage point and watched a Gila Woodpecker for a bit.  It never did get very close, but I managed to get a shot of perched in a thorny shrub.  You can just barely make out the red crown on the tawny head.

I also spotted a mockingbird just within range of my zoom lens.  I took a number of pictures of it and then suddenly it flew right me as I was looking through the viewfinder and landed a mere 15 feet away.  It posed for me like a pro!

I met up with Dennis back at our suite as he finished up his business. Our suite (not really sure what to call it) was a small efficiency apartment with a combined sitting/bedroom and a small patio outside the entrance. The entire resort was beautifully landscaped with native desert plants that looked quite lush compared to the surrounding desert simply because the resort used drip irrigation and kept plants trimmed for best blooming. Like many places around the world, this resort was far below capacity in number of guests, which made it nicer for us, although not so good for the resort. We ate our lunch at the poolside restaurant where the house sparrows and grackles quickly captured all errant crumbs.  Unfortunately, no photos because my camera was back in our room.  :-(

I did, however, go back out with camera to try to capture a female hummingbird.  Below is the bush of Mexican Bird of Paradise (not a true bird of paradise at all) that the humming bird had been in earlier.   Wait!!!  Can you see the hummer perched just above the seed pods?  Click to enlarge. 

She sat quite still as I moved in closer and closer.  You can tell she is a female bacause she lacks the colorful throat of the male.

Finally, when the camera was within inches of her, she decided to put a little more space between us, so I let her be after this last shot.

After lunch, we went back to our suite and spent some time on the patio where I took more bird photos.  All of the remaining photos were taken on our patio.

What could that be in the palm tree?  It really is a starling with its lovely speckled winter plumage.  Who knew they would perch in palms?

An entire flock of Gambel's quail came around from the back our suite and were very skittish.  I managed to get a couple of decent shots (out of 15 or so) by moving ever so cautiously around the corner to catch them unawares.  This first one seems to be saying "You don't see me.  You don't see me.  You don't see me" as it walked down the branch.

This lovely curved-bill thrush was scratching around on the ground underneath the orange tree.

But my favorite bird was the enchanting cactus wren.  They are not shy birds and will go about their business while letting you get within mere feet them.

This one is shuffling along in the fallen pink bougainvilla sepals.

And here is one getting dried material from a dead cactus for its nest material.

I love the white streak above its eyes and the brown spots on the pale cinnamon-colored underparts.  It is fairly large for a wren and has a very engaging manner.

Later on we made a foray for wine and cheese at a nearby wine shop so we could enjoy wine and cheese on the patio before going out to dinner later that evening. We ate at the Bonita Grill and had green corn tamales (incredibly delicious), azteca soup (fantastic), mahi mahi tacos (yum) , lamb with black beans and grilled veggies (great combination). Believe it or not, we had the leftovers for breakfast the next day! More on the rest of our holiday on the next post.


  1. What a wonderful mini holiday and how I envy the sunny warm weather.

  2. Gosh, Wilma. You seemed to cram in a lot of incredible activity into this short break. What a treat! Wonderful pictures of unusual birds. That said, I remember my first visit to Morocco, waking to the calls of Bulbuls in the palm trees and that was pretty exciting. Looking forward to your next episode.

  3. Wilma, that was an excellent read, with great pictures. I can tell you had an amazing time.
    Those birds are just stunning. Most I've never heard of, or seen before. But the Starling; we have plenty here, and strange to see one in a palm tree. lol
    Beautiful shots of the Hummingbird. The Gambel's Quail with his red crown, the Mockingbird, excellent; and the Cactus Wren, a real beauty.
    Looking forward to the next post.

  4. Hi Wilma. Whow, am I jealous. Hot days, warm nights, no cloud, super scenery, great birds and definitely a great place to stay. Like Emma the landscape reminded me of Morocco.
    Over here it is damp & grey so indoor chores only today. Cheers FAB.

  5. I'm very envious Wilma, it all looks and sounds wonderful! The scenery is beautiful and so many lovely birds. Wonderful food too and cheese and wine....heaven!!

    It is cold, wet, dark and miserable here :(

  6. Wooooooooooooooooooooooooow, I'm stunned... Fortunately I was seating when I visited your blog... You saw and got pictures of all these beautiful landscape and BIRDS in 3 days!!! What an incredible post you did... I've been going through the shots of the humming bird, the dark-throated sparrow and the mocking bird for... I don't know... They were to beautiful to stop watching them! Gosh you did a great job and I love this post... Thanks for sharing!

  7. Hi Wilma,
    Can't believe that it's been 25 years since I was there on the way to the Grand Canyon.
    You managed a lot in such short time.Incredible pictures, the quail is my favourite. Well done

  8. Hi wilma - Whoa!! that brought back some memories for me!! Two of my favourite birds from my trip to texas were Black-throated Sparrow and Cactus Wren. Great Pics and what stunning scenery - very well done!

  9. David - yes, we try to store this up to get us through our brutally cold winters.

    Emma - I was outside every moment possible to soak up the sun and scenery.

    Keith - you put finger on it; we did have an amazing time.

    Frank - I will be jealous of myself pretty soon as we head into the depths of winter! ;-)

    Jan - it was all round sensory delight!

    Chris - glad you enjoyed the photos. It is very rewarding to share with folks of a like mind.

    Madi - those quail are so much to watch. They look so cute and they have such entertaining behavior.

    TonyC - glad this prompted birding memories for you.

    Thanks to all of you for visiting and for your very kind comments. It keeps me going!


  10. Wow!.. so many birds and nature pictures there. Beautiful Gambel's Quail with nice hair style.

  11. Wilma, I'm so amazed at the wildlife in the desert! The birds aren't like anything we see here! The Gambel's quail is spectacular! So are the cactus plants. What a wonderful place to be...love your bird photos!

  12. Tabib and Kanak -

    the Sonoran desert is a pretty busy place for wildlife. Glad you like the photos and thanks so much for the compliments and for visiting. Of course I am envious of the birds each of you see and post on your blogs!


  13. Hi Wilma,

    Well firstly you look like you have some fantastic weather there unlike here in the SW of England.....fancy swapping the weather.

    Love the post and the birds. Seen a few Mockingbirds on my overseas travels and just love them.

    Thank you.


  14. Hi John -- thank you very much, we'll keep our sunny a while longer. ;-) But you will have the last laugh as the snow sets in here. :-(

    In the southeastern part of the US (where I came from) mockingbirds are very common and not much appreciated. But I like the way they can learn to mimic sounds particular to their location. I miss seeing and hearing them in Minnesota. Dennis refers to them dinosaurs with wings. I was happy to have spent some time with this one.



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