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February 27th, 2010
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Ft Lowell Park, Tucson

I joined Ed Tobin for an afternoon walk around Fort Lowell Park in Tucson to see if spring was in the air.

Before we could get going we encountered a territorial pair of Copper’s Hawks guarding a nest in a tall cottonwood. After watching the hawks and a seemingly oblivious Black Phoebe calling and flitting around the small pond, we headed out of the park and into the desert and wash. We enjoyed a Gambel’s Quail calling atop a dead tree, good views of Ladder-backed Woodpecker and Black-tailed Gnatcatcher and several newly-arrived White-winged Doves in full song.

Red-naped-Sapsucker-Ft-Lowell-Park-022710-01Red-naped-Sapsucker-Ft-Lowell-Park-022710-02Back along Craycroft Road, and past another cackling Cooper’s Hawk getting frisky, we re-entered the park and headed towards the avenue of cottonwoods. I was showing Ed a line of sapsucker wells in a tree when a fine male Red-naped Sapsucker appeared to demonstrate. Several Western Bluebirds were in the next tree, as was a Yellow-rumped Warbler in almost full breeding plumage. We also found our second interesting nest, a Great Horned Owl hunkered down on a mess of twigs.

At the pond the difference in the duck population from my last visit was marked – there were still about 30 ducks but single drake Ring-necked Duck and American Wigeon were possibly the last two wintering birds, the rest being the usual motley assortment of Mallards and things that don’t look quite right, bless them. A Lincoln’s Sparrow fed on short grass by the pond and Vermilion Flycatchers and more Western Bluebirds adorned the fences.

We were then treated to an astonishing display of aggression and protective passion from a male Anna’s Hummingbird in sparkling breeding plumage. We were practically dive-bombed by the little fighter as we were stopped in our tracks on the footpath. I tried to figure out where the inevitable nest was – I’ve never seen one quite so agitated so it must have been very close. Singing in flight, he buzzed right by and perched a few feet away on the fence by the sports field (and obviously away from the nest), gyrating and singing furiously, pink gorget blazing. He then buzzed us again and perched a few feet the other side to complain from that angle, repeating this back and forth several times. The female appeared and the pair perched together in vegetation near the presumed nesting site, the male stooping to gesture towards the female. Then she was off, but she didn’t betray her nest. The male proceeded to give a full diving display for a few minutes right above us, flying high and accelerating down at mind-boggling speed, letting out his startling “stuck pig” squeal at the bottom of each loop. Eventually he settled down to keep an eye on us. We left them to their business after quite a show.

Having just explained to Ed that the best way to find a hummingbird’s nest was to follow the female, I saw a female Anna’s Hummingbird buzzing around the same tree as the Cooper’s Hawks, which were still standing guard. She flitted along a branch and then bump, straight down onto her nest. It was quite high up for a hummer nest and appeared to be the usual lichen and spider web combo. I suppose the hawks are of no direct threat to the hummingbirds so they can coexist happily.

It’ll be fun keeping an eye on these three nests over the coming weeks…

(This is a code for Technorati, which won’t work until I’ve apparently pasted this somewhere: T4BAARBNTDQ4)

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