The new HQ – Fun Birding Towers!
At the grand old age of 39, I’ve finally bought a house of my own. It’s in Rio Rico Northeast, which is along I-19 about an hour to the south of Tucson, and I moved in at the start of May. I love the house, but I love the location more. I’m now the proud owner of almost ten acres of premium mesquite and cholla-dominated Sonoran desert, with extensive views over the Santa Cruz Valley. I can see six different mountain ranges from the patio, as well as two different countries, the hills just beyond the Mexican border being visible 15 miles to the south.
One of the main reasons I picked Rio Rico is that it’s a perfect base for leading birding trips, with many top sites in the immediate area. Some of the best riparian habitat in southern Arizona is along this stretch of the Santa Cruz, with easy access to the famed De Anza Trail at Tubac, Tumacacori (Santa Gertrudis Lane is minutes from the house) and Rio Rico. I drive past the ponds and flooded agricultural fields on Rio Rico Drive almost every day.
This puts me right in the middle of the birding action, in between and roughly equidistant from some of Arizona’s major birding hot spots, such as the Santa Rita Mountains (Madera, Florida and Montosa Canyons), the Patagonia area (Patagonia Lake, Paton’s, Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve, Roadside Rest) and the Atascosa Highlands/Pajarito Wilderness area (Ruby Rd, Pena Blanca Lake, Sycamore Canyon, California Gulch). More great birding spots at Nogales and Kino Springs are close by, while Arivaca, Green Valley and Tucson are all in range.
My house has already proved to be a great location for birding. I set up a bird feeding station in front of the house, and the response has been excellent. All it took was a small pond, a brush pile, seed, thistle, suet and hummingbird feeders and a bit of fruit and peanut butter, and the birds started to arrive. At first it was Curve-billed Thrasher and Cactus Wren, then Black-throated and Rufous-winged Sparrows joined in, as did a pair of Canyon Towhees. The hummingbird feeders attracted a few each of Broad-billed and Black-chinned Hummingbirds. A small group of House Finches started to visit regularly, which seemed to persuade quite a few more birds that it’s a safe place to get food and water. Gila Woodpecker, Gambel’s Quail and Pyrrhuloxia have become more regular in the past few days, and single feeder visits from a female Hooded Oriole and a bright male Blue Grosbeak have been encouraging.
Away from the feeders, typical summer species of the Sonoran desert can be found on the property, including Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, Ash-throated Flycatcher, Say’s Phoebe, Phainopepla and an active family of Lucy’s Warblers. I’ve seen Greater Roadrunner a couple of times, once carrying a lizard, and every night a Lesser Nighthawk starts purring on the property, so I must have nesting nighthawks somewhere.
A few nights ago I heard the cry of a Black-crowned Night-Heron, whilst flyovers have included a couple of Zone-tailed Hawks and a noisy pair of White-throated Swifts today.
The major highlight has been a bird that I hoped I’d get one day, but didn’t dream it would be so quickly. A stunning male Varied Bunting made a visit to the feeders at the end of May, and this afternoon it was back for a prolonged double visit, taking his place at the seed feeder and spending a couple of minutes tucking into an orange. I doubt that many people have had the pleasure of watching a Varied Bunting at one port of a feeder with a Rufous-winged Sparrow at the adjacent one!
My yard list is up to 39 species after a month, which is pretty good. I’m aiming for 60 by the end of the year. Let’s hope I can pull in a few migrants and winter visitors. Being close to the Santa Cruz migration corridor and at the base of Josephine Canyon, the main south-facing drainage of the Santa Ritas, the potential is there…