My birding group made its monthly outing yesterday, and our destination this time was Happy Valley, on the east side of the Rincon Mountains. Seems somewhat silly to call ourselves a birding group when we look for and at so many other interesting things. Maybe ‘naturalist’ group would be a better description. For many miles along the dirt road we birded from the cars as Private Property signs were posted along both sides. A juvenile Northern Harrier caught our eyes as he hunted low along the ground, many sparrows flitted among the trees, a Loggerhead shrike stood tall on the top of a mesquite tree, and Western Meadowlarks hopped from the ground to the low trees, singing their beautiful song. That sound always takes me back to my childhood on my grandparents’ ranch in Ash Valley, California, where I would often awake to the song of meadowlarks. A red-shafted northern flicker flew by. As we rose in elevation, oaks and junipers joined mesquites as dominating species. Along the ephemeral stream bed, the big cottonwoods, sycamores, willows and ash trees rose tall and offered a touch of fall color.
An unfenced area beckoned to us and there didn’t appear to be any NO TRESPASSING signs, so it was time for some exploration. Grasshoppers were abundant here, as Buzz, our resident entomologist, had hoped, including large plains lubbers mating, beautiful red-wingeds flying, and another mating pair caught in the web of a black widow spider. As the grasshoppers struggled to get free, the spider kept making jabs at them, but acted nervous and fearful of getting too close. Quite the drama. There were a few flowers blooming - morning glories, caltrops, threadleaf groundsel, scarlet creeper and some kind of vetch. Birds included mockingbirds, red-naped sapsucker, a red-tailed hawk, a raven, yellow-rumped warblers, sparrows, Say’s phoebe and a Western wood pewee. In the butterfly category, we saw queens, a variegated fritillary, pipevine swallowtails, sleepy oranges, cloudless sulphurs, and more. Debbie found a very small set of antlers, long-since discarded by a white-tailed deer. Did all that make up for the horrible stickers we got in our shoes, socks, pants and legs?? Just as we were leaving, a woman came along and asked us to leave as we were on private property. Fine. I couldn't wait to get out of those stickers anyway!
The caravan proceeded slowly as there seemed lots to stop and see - grasshoppers, butterflies, birds, plants, lizards. Along the way a red-tailed hawk posed on a dead snag, frightening a large group of small birds that Gay was able to identify as lark buntings in winter plumage. A bank of clouds advanced steadily until the sky was mostly cloudy, and looking somewhat like rain. White-crowned and black-throated sparrows got the cars to stop for a closer look. I could hear the white-crowned’s musical song.
Finally we arrived at Forest Service land and after a few minutes to study the maps, chose a road to Turkey Creek where we parked and had lunch at a large cleared campsite. Up in the big trees, a chatter of small birds revealed yellow-rumped warblers. An American robin and red-naped sapsuckers were all happily foraging in the juniper tree right over our heads. Down the road we walked on a lovely fall day, the clouds keeping the temperature quite pleasant. Some bird activity attracted our attention to a big sycamore tree, and Wow! We found a bonanza! White-breasted nuthatches, bridled titmouse, ruby-crowned kinglet, yellow-rumped warblers, all so busy. So many fascinating little things to see, like a mantid egg case, a perfectly rounded bird nest with the entrance hole on the end, a shrine made of native rock, green cane chollas decorated with their bright yellow fruit. Magnificent, giant trees amazed us with their huge girth and height. One long-ago-fallen giant was like a sculpture, so lovely were its patterns and designs. A red-tailed hawk rode a thermal, seeming to sit perfectly still on the wind. The big leaves fell like snowflakes and crunched under our feet. An interesting array of beetles and other small creatures hid under rocks, or so they thought!
Walking back to our cars, we felt a few raindrops, but that was the extent of the rain. It had been a perfect day for ‘naturing’ !
For all the photos, go to Happy Valley Birding