Spring Arrives

Spring Arrives
Spring Arrives

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Breeze in the Pines

How lucky we are in Tucson to be able to drive 30 miles up into the Sky Islands, leaving the 100°+ temps behind and spend the day in the cool mountain breezes.  In the Sonoran Desert region, forest-clad mountain ranges with cool, moist habitats are separated and isolated from one another by 'seas' of arid, hot desert, and can be compared with islands in the ocean, thus the term Sky Islands.  An incredible diversity of plant and animal life exists  on these mountain slopes.  According to A Natural History of the Sonoran Desert, (Steven J. Phillips & Patricia Wentworth Comus, eds., Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum Press, 2000),
In fact, the "sky islands" of southeastern Arizona and adjacent Sonora are now recognized by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature as one of the great centers of plant diversity north of the tropics.



Looking from Mt. Lemmon to Tucson in the valley below, with the Santa Rita Mountains in the distance.
The first thing you notice upon arriving at the trailhead of the Aspen and Marshall Gulch trails is the sound of the breeze blowing through the pines.  And, of course, the almost-chilly mountain air.  My friend Marilyn and I set out on the Aspen Trail with no agenda except to have no agenda.  Yes, we look and listen for birds, but also examine plants, exclaim over fascinating insects, take in the forest scents, thrill to the clouds of butterflies, take too many photos (me), discuss flower identification and marvel at the sheer beauty of our surroundings. 

Especially plentiful were Nais Metalmark butterflies on Fendler's ceanothus.  The tiny white flowers were also attractive to a collection of other insects including flies, bees, wasps and other butterflies. 


 
 
 
Tiny blue butterflies of several species delighted us at every turn.  The shocking blue upper wings of the echo azure made their identification easy.  Yellow-eyed juncos were the most common bird species, often hopping along on the ground, a mom feeding a juvenile.  We were excited to get excellent views of the red-faced warbler who sat still just long enough for me to think about getting a photo.  A beautiful red dragonfly (flame skimmer?) sat patiently for his portrait.
 
 
And just when I was losing hope of seeing one, a small horned lizard scrambled across the path and then froze, waiting for the giant mammals to pass. His camouflage was so perfect that if he hadn't moved, he never would have been spotted. We weren't about to pass, however, without some photos.  This is the greater short-horned lizard, a higher elevation horned lizard who primarily feeds on ants, but will also take beetles, grasshoppers and other insects. 
 
As we sat on a log having a snack, a fresh and beautiful Arizona sister butterfly fluttered by, sitting only briefly.  Stands of bright red bearded penstemon bloomed alongside the path, bird songs competed with one another high up in the trees, and strange little bugs went about their business.  How would you like to be known as the fungus-pleasing beetle?  Well, this guy is, and the fungus seemed mighty pleased!
 
 
Taking the return trail through Marshall Gulch we descended into a cool, moist, leafy microhabitat where deciduous trees such as big-tooth maple dominate, and the creek remnant pools are lined with red and yellow monkeyflower and golden columbine. 
 

 
A beautiful two-tailed swallowtail butterfly patrolled along the creek, and congregating on rocks in the pools were groups of blue butterflies.
 


Too soon we had reached the parking lot, which was now full, and it was time to sit at the picnic tables having a little lunch while going over our lists and through our field guides. 
 

 
Here is our bird list for the day:
Yellow-eyed Junco
Turkey Vulture
Broad-tailed Hummingbird
Acorn Woodpecker
Cordilleran Flycatcher
Common Raven
Mountain Chickadee
White-breasted nuthatch
red-breasted nuthatch
Pygmy Nuthatch
House Wren
Hermit Thrush
American Robin
Black-headed Grosbeak
Spotted Towhee
Black-tailed Gnatcatcher
Stellar's Jay
Red-faced Warbler
 


May your summer bring you cool mountain breezes through the pines.  Happy Summer Solstice!


 
 

19 comments:

  1. Your view from Mount Lemon brought back wonderful memories to me of a very hot day in July, 1988. We found cool respite on that island from camping in the desert heat.

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    1. Yes, so nice to have the 'cool' so close. Thanks for stopping by, Judy

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  2. Wow, what a lovely walk. So many beautiful nature scenes, your photos are wonderful. I love all the butterflies and the lizard. Nice list of birds too, great post!

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  3. Another stellar post. One day will visit your state.

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    1. I hope you get to visit one day, Luis!

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  4. I have never been up to Mount Lemmon. Every time we are in Tucson it is winter up there and we never want to go since we are coming from winter and can't bear seeing snow when we are on vacation. Someday I hope to be out in Tucson permanently and then I will see Mount Lemmon for myself. Until then I will enjoy your wonderful and breathtaking photos!

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    1. Some people do like to go up Mt. Lemmon in the winter to see the snow, but I've seen enough snow in my life. Thanks for your visit!

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  5. Yes, let's go up into the sky islands! In fact I'm just back from Mt Graham and I was up on Mt Lemmon just before that. So amazing the difference that even a few hundred feet make: even Molino Basin is already rich in surprises while it's only just miserably hot in the lower desert. Can't wait for the monsoon

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    1. I, too, am anxiously awaiting the monsoon. All the plants in my yard look so sad.

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  6. What a heaven sent to have those cool mountains to enjoy when the heat gets high. Am seeing many similar flowers here.

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    1. Yes, I know that many of these flowers grow where you are, Gaelyn. Nice to see something blooming when everything in town looks parched.

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  7. What a delightful day. I can only hope to have the opportunity to visit such a magnificent place someday. I enjoyed your series of photos illustrating your account of your adventure. I also am enjoying your 'Daily Notes' on your sidebar. Great idea!

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    1. Thank you so much. I appreciate all your comments!

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  8. i just got hooked into bird watching and could not identify most of the birds we saw, but i am so glad to have found this activity since it is so much joy. indeed, lucky we are in the west to be able to experience different climates in such a short time, a lot of people usually do not think of pine forest in places close to the desert. i so love your first picture, it looks so cool, and that group of blue butterflies remind me of the joy of seeing them when we were at grand teton.

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    1. Thanks so much for writing. Your love of nature shines through in your blog, which I very much enjoy reading!

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  9. I think we are kindred spirits Carole, last month I went up Mount Lemmon with my birding buddy, Kathie to escape the heat and we had a wonderful day too. One of the last things we spotted - a Horned Lizard! :)

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    1. Yes! It made my day when I saw that little lizard. So glad you had the same experience.

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  10. Between my computer barely working, being really busy, and not paying enough attention, you slipped a blog past me. Thanks for sharing your lovely, cool hike.

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