On the Trail & ‘Round the Campfire

Welcome to my little diversion from the daily grind. Pull up a log or, just sit on yer’ fist and lean back on yer’ thumb (put a smiley face here) and let’s share a moment. I’ll throw another blog in the fire every now and then and, we’ll chew the fat about such mundane things as birds, nature, cowboys and the southwest, USA. I may even wax poetic or philosophical occasionally, but always honoring our creator. If you like something you read, please leave yer’ tracks.

Bird Watchers, Birdin' and Twitchers

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OK, let's start by throwin' our first blog on the fire. How about the outdoor enjoyment of bird watching also called "birding" and "twitching" in the southwest? Twitching is the old Englishman's term for bird watching. In this country the whole idea of bird watching began on the east coast. As the English inhabited the native land so did their passion for watching birds. In fact, the famous artwork of naturalist and twitcher, John Audubon, was mainly to record and identify the new found birds for the English royalty, on this new found continent, called America. There were no wildlife cameras and lenses back then, not even an instant Polaroid! So it is that, in the USA, everything about "birding" and "twitching" began on the east coast. In reality, not much has changed in the academia of birding.

So, what the English still call a twitcher (or more correctly, twitchah), came to be known by us as bird watchers and later shortened to birders. Are you a birder? Then you are into birdin', birding, and twitching! Whether you drop the ending 'g' in your pronunciation, it has nothing to do with your passion. It just identifies your roots like a cowboy hat in the western U.S.!

On occasion, one is corrected about his or her pronunciation of a bird name. For instance, which is it? Lazu-lie Bunting or La-zú- lee Bunting? I have heard this rift between experienced birders right in the field! I mean; how do you pronounce Lazuli? When you see this beautiful bird in the field, it looks virtually the same as the artwork in Peterson's or Sibley's field guides. But, Field Guides give no key to pronunciation. Maybe a visiting twitcher, well educated in the kings English and Latin and art of articulating pronunciation will help you pronounce Lazuli.

But, more to the point about birding: The precious riparian areas of the entire southwest are hotspots of bird activity during the spring and fall migrations. This is especially true of the arid deserts of southern California, southeast Arizona and western New Mexico.

I did some serious birdin' in mid-May in the Santa Rita and Huachuca mountains of southern Arizona. I stayed at a great B&B called The Chuparosa Inn, in Madera Canyon. (Chuparosa is hummingbird in Español) These mountains lie directly south of Tucson when going east on highway 19 toward Nogales. Birding in southeastern Arizona is about as good as it gets in southwest. Very different and beautiful birds migrate up from South America and Mexico to places like Madera Canyon, Patagonia, Miller Canyon and Cave Creek in the Santa Rita and Huachuca Mountains. Birders and twitchers from all over the world seek out these locations in the spring of the year for southern migrant specialties and late summer for various species of hummers.

In four days I was able to identify over 90 different species of birds. Three were first-timers for me—life listers, which is always a great experience. One was a Violet-crowned hummer and one was a Sulfur-bellied Flycatcher! Both are among the more difficult to find, at least for me. I also encountered a pair of Elegant Trogons in Madera Canyon, always a great sighting, since only a couple of pair are thought to be nesting in the canyon in recent years.

Many come in search of the numerous species of colorful hummingbirds that show up here during nesting season. The peak time for searching out hummingbirds, if that is your interest, is July and August. There are eighteen species of hummingbirds found in the US. The eastern US has just one species, the Ruby-throated hummer. However, seventeen more species of these flying jewels have been recorded throughout the southwest, including, on occasion, the Ruby-throated.

Here are a couple of hot spots (no pun intended) that might produce some rarities. Try the feeders at the well-known Patton's residence near the entrance to Patagonia Reserve. The Violet Crowned hummers regularly show up here. Also, a good place to observe many species of hummingbirds, including the gorgeous Blue-throated, is at the feeders at Beatty's Orchard up in Miller Canyon. That's off highway 90, in the Huachuca mountains. Bring your marking pen and life journal, you'll be making some memorable notes!

The typical beauties like the Vermillion Flycatcher, Painted Redstart, Broad-billed and Magnificent Hummingbirds were fairly common in the canyons. I did miss seeing the Refaced Warbler. Oh well, that's a good reason to go back!

So whether you are birdin' or twitchin', and no matter how you pronounce it, it's one of the great out-door adventures of the southwest. And as to whether it's Lazu-lie or La-zú-lee Bunting? Well, find a twitcher and ask how the king pronounces Lazuli Bunting — or just enjoy the birding experience. There was a time that I didn't even say twitchah, now I are one!

© Ed Keenan

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