My mother watched birds and always had a feeder outside our kitchen window. I was a Girl Scout and a Girl Scout leader, and we are lifelong hikers and campers. But I didn’t pay much attention to birds until about 10 years ago, after we spent a weekend in Cave Creek Canyon in Portal, Ariz.
Our kids were at college, so we started making the trip to the far southeastern corner of the state to hike. We had discovered Cave Creek Canyon years before during a camping trip at Chiricahua National Monument. When we returned, we decided to book a room at Cave Creek Ranch. The idea was to hike during the day, and sleep in a bed – not on the ground.
We noticed right away we were the only ones at the ranch without binoculars. The place was full of birders, outfitted in khaki and accessorized with pricey optics, including cameras with very long lenses. We found them very geeky and a little funny.
Then one year we were there for the fall hummingbird migration. Owner Reed Peters maintains a couple dozen feeders outside the lodge, including many for hummingbirds. A cloud of the tiny birds buzzed around each one. They arrive depleted by their journey from as far north as Washington State and Alaska. Lighting to rest and replenish, they set aside their territorial combativeness and together drained those feeders before continuing to Mexico and points further south.
I made a friend while hanging around the feeders, who suggested I buy Richard Cachor Taylor’s Birds of Southeastern Arizona at the front desk. I spent a big part of that weekend watching the show. Now I understand what we didn’t know on those early visits: Cave Creek Canyon is a world-renowned bird watching destination.
On our way home, I thought, “You know, I could hang a hummingbird feeder in the yard …” The rest, as they say, is history. We bought binoculars before our next trip and I’ve been hooked on birds ever since.
I found my addiction in Portal, but you don’t have to travel to the sky islands to find birds to watch. The low desert of Central Arizona — aka Ahwatukee — is home to many beautiful resident and migratory birds. Some of them hang out in your back yard, in the landscaping along our streets and in every parking lot you use. There are sparrows and grackles and doves, but there’s glamour, too. The Western Tanager, above, visits our yard every year in April. Other birds prefer a habitat that is not manicured: you have to hike into South Mountain Park or some other natural area to see them.
The important thing is to discover that there’s a parallel universe out there that you can enter if you simply stand still, listen and watch.
I decided to start this blog because the birds need more allies. Nice people, smart people – even people who love to be outdoors – often are clueless about the life around them. I figure if you don’t notice it, you won’t understand how important it is to protect what’s left of the wild. I promise not to preach – not because I don’t like to (ask my patient husband!) – but because there’s no need. Once you meet our fellow residents and see how beautiful, intelligent, quirky and fragile they are, you will be on their side, too.
I plan to tell you stories about my adventures, bring you some interesting science and introduce you to the people who are working to make sure we don’t lose our feathered heritage. On some days, I’ll throw in lizards and flowers too.
I just want you to care. So please read and send me your thoughts. I’m here for you — and for the birds.
Photo: Western Tanager in Ahwatukee, April 26, 2017