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February 4th, 2013
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Santa Cruz River at Ina Road

I was in Tucson to meet a friend (author Harvey Burgess) for lunch. We opted for Saffron Bistro where I waded in to the all-you-can-eat Indian buffet. Turns out I can eat a LOT of Indian food! Who’da thunk?

Desperately needing to walk this off, having a couple of spare hours and being on the west side of town, it all added up to a trip to Ina Road and a walk (or let’s face it, a waddle) along the Santa Cruz River, up to Cortaro Road and back.

It was a lovely, sunny afternoon and the birding was good right from the start. I didn’t find anything spectacular but I thoroughly enjoyed the general birding at this excellent and I suspect under-watched site.

The highlights were a couple of vireos, a PLUMBEOUS and a CASSIN’S VIREO, both feeding in willows. The Cassin’s had caught a huge caterpillar or grub of some sort. The vireos were among literally hundreds of YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLERS, all Audubon’s although I thought I caught a glimpse of a Myrtle but I wasn’t able to relocate it to confirm. A few ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLERS were in with them, but I couldn’t pull a rarity out of the bag.

Also notable for their high numbers were ABERT’S TOWHEE (dozens) as well as RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET, LINCOLN’S SPARROW and MARSH WREN (many calling and a couple seen well).

My first swallows of the year were fairly predictable, four NORTHERN ROUGH-WINGED SWALLOWS in a spot that’s always good for early migrant hirundines.

Water birds included the classic teal trifecta, CINNAMON, GREEN-WINGED and a pair of BLUE-WINGED TEAL, all at close range. A PIED-BILLED GREBE was lurking in the cattails while a SPOTTED SANDPIPER bobbed up and down on a small island. Raptors were represented by four RED-TAILED HAWKS, a female NORTHERN HARRIER and a couple of COOPER’S HAWKS. This has long been a great place to watch Cooper’s as they patrol the river, scaring and sometimes eating the little guys.

I heard a loud crashing noises from the cattails on the other side of the river and, finding a gap in the willows to see the far shore, I watched, enthralled, as two really big, healthy COYOTES hunted for snacks among the vegetation. They were both wet so had presumably gone for a duck or coot at some point. As they were still actively hunting, I presumed they’d been unsuccessful. It was amazing entertainment and all of it easily seen, right in the city. This was particularly apt as my next stop was a Tucson Audubon lecture by the excellent David Lindo, the Urban Birder.

The Santa Cruz River at Ina Road was one of the first places I birded in Tucson after I arrived in November 2002. It’s changed a lot in the intervening decade – there was no fancy paved trail for a start, so access was tricky (and possibly not even legal), and the river has changed course, so there were loads of shorebirds visible near the bridge back then. But even though it’s been ‘tamed’, this remains one of the finest birding sites in urban Tucson and I recommend it highly.

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