Time to Head up to the Mountains

By Dan Weisz

Although the typical high temperature for Tucson during the first week of May is usually in the upper 80’s, it’s been breaking 100° lately.  Last week I spent one morning at Madera Canyon at 5000 feet elevation.  The creek was running through the riparian woodlands and we had a nice walk along the oak/juniper/sycamore woodlands.   Monday, we went up to Summerhaven at the top of Mount Lemmon with an elevation of about 8000 feet.  We walked along Marshall Gulch surrounded by pine trees and spent some time on the porch of a friend’s cabin.

Below are some photos taken in these places that were much cooler than Tucson.

From Madera Canyon:

A House Wren was busy building a nest and letting the world know what a good job it was doing. It showed off this twig from a number of perches.

Finally, it dropped down into a tangle of brush with the twig where, I assume, its nest was.

And then it emerged and promptly told the entire world how special it was.


Just beyond the House Wren, a Yellow-eyed Junco took a bath in the stream.  A Yellow-eyed Junco is a sparrow with a rusty back, gray body, and that very yellow eye.  It is another specialty of southeastern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico, ranging down into Mexico.   Birdnote has some nice information about these birds:   https://www.birdnote.org/show/yellow-eyed-juncos-bright-eyes 

This is a Black-headed Grosbeak, a summer bird in the Western United States.  The males have a very black head but this bird has lighter markings.  This is either a female or an immature male, both of whom look similar.  Both males and females have that thick, conical beak.  This is a bird that looks like it doesn’t have a neck.  To hear the beautiful song of a Black-headed Grosbeak and to learn about them, listen to this Birdnote story:  https://www.birdnote.org/show/black-headed-grosbeak-sings

Up on Mount Lemmon, the Hairy Woodpecker is a common medium sized woodpecker. It has two white stripes on its head. This bird is a female and the male will look just the same with the addition of a red spot at the back of its head.

Cliff Chipmunks are a ground dwelling squirrel that live above the desert at elevations beginning at 5000 feet and up.  They live on cliff walls, as their name implies, or among boulder fields bordering high woodlands.

At the cabin, male Black-headed Grosbeaks continued to come to the seed feeders.  They always hid in thick bushes and were usually backlit, so this is the best photo I could get.  You can compare him to the female/immature Black-headed Grosbeak we saw at Madera Canyon to see plumage differences.

We were sitting on the lower deck of the cabin watching the bird feeders but could hear the incessant trill of Broad-tailed Hummingbirds coming from the hummingbird feeders on the upper deck.  Before we left we paused to observe some of these birds feeding.  Their wings make an insect-like trill while flying.  You can hear that sound at this link:  https://www.xeno-canto.org/463255  

It was cool in the mountains and the change of scenery was a nice relief.

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