On Friday, December 14, 2012, Anne and I went out to the Tonto National Forest to help cover two sections of the Mesa Christmas Bird Count.
Anne had just flown in to PHX the night before, and rain started falling that evening as we went to bed. After a long night of cold rain, we weren’t particularly excited about rushing out to the far corner of Tonto NF to bird. Aside from poor bird expectations, we wanted to avoid getting a car stuck in mud or getting temporarily trapped afar a flashing wash. Passing through the Tonto, the mesquite-tamarisk flats hued a bright green against the steel sky. As morning progressed, sunrays began finding occasional gaps and lighting an increasingly awesome desertscape for an otherwise ordinary day of birding. As the clouds broke apart and drifted off, waves of mist and downpours swept in from the distant landscape and provided scenery that sometimes made it hard to concentrate on the task at hand: birding!
Though we haven’t been far from the Sonoran since we left Yuma, I can’t remember the last time I really took notice of the wondrous shapes of cacti. Stripes of Saguaro in sharp relief against the sea of palo verde and mesquite with glowing Cholla and the occasional flat pads of the prickly pear interspersed.
The sun continued playing its game until it finally started to set somewhere behind Fort McDowell. That’s when we found one of our last and most interesting birds of the day, the Hutton’s Vireo pictured last, before traveling on to the Denny’s where the CBC compilation took place.
Because of its proximity to Phoenix, the Tonto attracts a fair number of plinkers and hunters, so Anne and I were careful to remember to wear our blaze orange hats and to be wary of the source of gunshots, which steadily increased in frequency as the day went on.
Closer to the unofficial shooting ranges: I think this is what cactus plugging looks like. Whether or not that’s true, this tall and multi-appendaged fellow is likely incredibly old. Saguaros can remain in spear shape (meaning no arms) for as long as 75 years before growing their first extra arms. Sad that some plinkers might take pot-shots at them…
Even in death, the distinctive shape of an ancient Saguaro is evident.
Hutton’s Vireo or Ruby-crowned Kinglet? It took us a little too long to figure this one out… Nice to have a little puzzle each time you bird.