Thursday, April 21, 2016

Day 1: Montezuma Well

Montezuma Well
Today was our first trip with the Verde Valley Birding and Nature Festival, fondly known as the Verde Birdy.  For each of the next four days we will go out on well led trips around the area, to see what we can see. The logistics of putting a festival like this are absolutely astounding, and my hat goes off to the organizers and volunteers who do this each year.

Neither "Montezuma" nor "well" are words normally associated with Arizona, and certainly not when used in the same sentence. However, Montezuma Well is a National Monument here in the Verde Valley. In Kentucky we would call it a really, really big sinkhole. In the Yucatan, they would call it a cenote.  Over 1.5 million gallons of water flows into the Well every day, a rate that has not fluctuated measurably despite recent droughts throughout the state of Arizona, with the excess flowing out into Beaver Creek, just downhill from the well. Look in the upper left of this photo for a dwelling from the Sinagua, an ancient people who inhabited this area. Water means life in Arizona, so people have lived here for thousands of years.
Great Horned Owl and Chick
As we entered, a Park Service volunteer preceded us with her spotting scope. There is a Great Horned Owl nesting in the side of the cliff, she said, and you can see them if you know where to look. They mostly stayed back in the shadows to keep the morning sun out of their eyes. Yep, Great Horned Owls can and do live anywhere they want!
Rock Wren in Nest Hole
The limestone sides of the cliffs were chock full of cavities, homes to many kinds of animals and birds. We noticed a pair of Rock Wrens going in and out one hole near the bottom, chasing off a ground squirrel that started coming too close.
Canyon Wren
The Canyon Wren's song echoed across the well, sounding like a child's wind-up toy that was winding down. It's an unmistakable sound, and we finally tracked him down near the water. Flying bugs are abundant, so many kinds of birds that eat them are here.
Barrel Cactus
Yellow Columbine
Flowers are blooming abundantly, both in the dry chaparral areas or the riparian stream sides. I could hardly believe finding this gorgeous yellow columbine and maidenhair ferns growing down in the cool creek areas.
Yellow Warbler
Yellow Warblers and Summer Tanagers taunted us from the leaves of sycamore and cottonwood trees above the flowing the stream.
Black Hawk in Nest
We heard the distinctive call of a Black Hawk, and our tour leader pointed out a Black Hawk nest that had been used in previous years, but seemed to be empty this year. Just as he said that, the hawk flew up and landed in it! Yeah! At the same time, my camera battery died (of course) and when I replaced it with the spare in my fanny pack, you guessed it, that one was dead too. Bummer. You would think I'd have learned better. Fortunately, one of the other birders on our trip has the same camera and she loaned me one of her charged batteries. What a life saver! You know that the best shots will come when your battery is dead.
Black-throated Sparrow
These festivals are terrific ways to add to your life list of birds. Our tour leader today really knew his bird song and found many birds that I'd never seen before. Of course, we still didn't see all of them. The Bell's Vireo and Lucy's Warbler are still on my list to find and photograph.
Cooper's Hawk in Nest
The picnic area is shady and cool and we found two large nests in the trees. One had a Cooper's Hawk sitting in it, keeping an eye on all of us.
Cooper's Hawk with Prey
Her mate came up in a while with her lunch, but cautiously did not fly toward the nest until we were safely out of the way.
Red Tailed Hawk Pair
Yes, love is in the air, along with this courting pair of Red Tailed Hawks. I have been in raptor heaven this week!
Lark Sparrow
By the time we got back to the meeting spot at Dead Horse Ranch State Park, my feet were hurting and I looked forward to driving back to our condo. However, the local Audubon Society representative asked if we had any target birds we hadn't found yet. I replied that I wanted to find Lazuli Buntings and Bridled Titmouse. Well, he replied, just take that path towards a big cottonwood tree. We have shade, seats, and feeders to attract birds of all sorts, and they had the Bunting there this morning.  He was right on all counts, except that the Bunting had been there (as all birders know) but had just left and didn't return while we sat there. But we saw this beautiful Lark Sparrow, another life bird. A group of school children joined us for a while, as their guide introduced them to birding habitats, how to identify them and the use of their binoculars.
Swallowtail and Hummer
The Hummers zoomed in and out to the nectar feeders, but didn't seem to mind sharing the nectar with some big swallowtail butterflies! We'll stop my again tomorrow to look for the Lazuli Bunting, so stay tuned.New life birds so far this trip - 6!

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