Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Pickleweed - A Yummie Treat!

First, a little information on pickleweed.  Photo of Black Phoebe - Note the pickleweed turning red.

Morro Bay Estuary - Pickleweed, is ideally suited to the estuary as it can survive periodic inundation by salt water; saltwater travels up through the pickleweed roots where it is stored in the top of the plant.  In the fall the top sections turn red and fall off, and the cycle begins anew.  Pickleweed which covers most of the estuary provides habitat for many species of animals, such as insects, crabs, a variety birds, including shore birds, song birds, wading birds, ducks and geese. 

Morro Bay Marina Boardwalk - Yesterday morning - An extreme high tide silently pushed many species of the bay birds to the edge of the pickleweed, and as a consequence making them much easier to observe from the boardwalk that I was standing on.

"Much easier to observe," is rather an understatement, for only a few feet away were eight Brant intently feeding in the pickleweed.  Usually, Brant fly if you are within 500 feet.  A boy rolled by on a scooter and the geese didn't even raise an eyebrow.  I watched them for about an hour and as the tide ebbed and hundreds of Avocets, accompanied by three Caspian Tern, moved into the shallow water, the Brant continued browsing through the pickleweed.  For me and two out of town birders this was a rare sighting.  

 Now I am faced with a question, what were they eating?  Ah, a bird related mystery that bears investigation.   Oh, oh, it's getting late, had better finish this blog and get my stocking hung on the fireplace.  Do not want to miss Santa.  Merry Holidays.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Birding Morro Bay Beach

Morro Bay Beach - Weather coolish, cloudy and breezy.  As you can see in the photo the beach was very quiet.  I was hoping to see two winter visitors, Bonaparte's Gull and Mew Gull.  Fortunately there were only a few gulls on the beach, making it easier to spot the little migrants as they moved between a small beach pond and the edge of the surf. 
Bonaparte's Gull at 12-13 inches in length is the smallest gull (photo above).  Both gulls breed in Alaska and Northern Canada and winter along the west coast.  A fascinating aspect of the Mew Gull (photo below) is that it is the only gull that nests in trees.  And you will never guess who Bonaparte's Gulls are named after  -  Napoleon's brother, Charles Lucien Bonaparte who was a leading ornithologist in the 1800's. 

When trying to ID the Bonaparte's Gull and the Mew Gull keep in mind they are about 1/2 the size of a common Western Gull and are often alone or on the edge of a group of Gulls. 

Other beach birds - Feeding in the breaking surf was a mixed flock of Surf Scoter, female Bufflehead, and Eared Grebe.   Farther out was a flock of Western Grebe.   After a chilly hour of birding the beach it was time for a cup of tea.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Birding South to North

This morning's bird-a-thon began at the Baywood Pier.  A great Egret was checking the Blue-winged and Cinnamon Teal, two Greater Yellowleg were in attendance.  Nearby were 16 Brant Goose.  A few days ago a Brant count was taken, a total of 163, a drastic decline from the typical numbers of 2,000 - 3,000.

Sweet Springs 32 species.  Favorites were - Wigeon, Black-bellied plover, and a noisy Kingfisher.

Continued my bird quest south a mile or so to the ponds at the Sea Pines Golf Course.  At the larger pond were two female Common Goldeneye, an A+ sighting; the smaller pond held 5 species, Mallard, Shoveler, Bufflehead, Ruddy Duck, and Pied Billed Grebe.  On the grass were several hundred coots or more. The local eagle has a taste for Coots.

Next stop,  El Chorro Park, 5 miles south/east of Morro Bay.  The numerous pepper trees were loaded with plump red berries.  America Robin, some with very deep red/orange breasts, were indulging in a berry frenzy; counted 50 Robins in and under this one pepper tree (photo).   Among the Robins were, Golden and White-crowned Sparrow, Hermit Thrush and several pair of Western Bluebird.   
 A few days ago birded Estero Bluffs with Harry and Norma Catchpole.   Our feathered friends were abundant -   Pelican, Cormorant, Turnstone, Surf Scoter, Western Grebe, Whimbrel,  etc.  At Villa Creek, the northern end of Estero Bluffs we experienced a lengthy sighting of a Pectoral Sandpiper, a first for the Catchpoles.  It was concentrating on eating flies and was not alarmed by our presence.  The best sighting of the day, and probably of the month was a male Peregrine Falcon diving on a poor little Forster's Tern; the Tern managed to elude the Peregrine (yeah for the little guy).   Happy Birding!


Thursday, November 6, 2014


 The Black Brant hunting season is upon us, beginning Saturday the 8th to December 7th.  Waterfowl season opens concurrent with the Brant season and goes through January 25.  Waterfowl includes all  species   

Below is a photo of Green-winged Teal and Cinnamon Teal.  Morro Bay is officially designated as a bird sanctuary and a nature preserve.  I find that difficult to believe, especially when I hear the shotgun blasts.  Heaven help all the migratory Geese and Waterfowl that come to Morro Bay for sanctuary.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Morro Bay Marina Boardwalk - High Tide Birding

Morro Bay Calif - High tide is an excellent time to go birding from the Morro Bay Marina Boardwalk.  An incoming tide causes the shorebirds to feed in the pickleweed; the higher the tide, the closer the birds are to the boardwalk. 
Today observed huge flocks of Godwit, Willet; a few Long-billed Curlew (top photo); and one Whimbrel.  Here and there, Black-bellied Plover and Dowitcher.   In wetter areas several Killdeer and a solitary Spotted Sandpiper (above photo).  Farther out in the estuary were Great Blue Heron, and Great and Snowy Egret; even farther out, a flock of Avocet.

All the shorebirds birds were busy feeding until a Turkey Vulture (below photo) made a low pass, causing panic and chaos, thousands of birds took flight; the sound of the wings was music to my ears. In a few minutes the shorebirds were back feeding, their worries over for the moment.  Do believe Turkey Vultures enjoy teasing shorebirds.
On the inland side of the boardwalk, in the extremely dry vegetation, birds were sparse - White-crowned Sparrow, Song Sparrow,  Bewick's Wren, a glance at a Palm Warbler, and to my delight, a Fox Sparrow - my second sighting of the year; the first was sighted on Alcatraz Island (the previous blog post). 

Before the boardwalk, there was a path along the edge of the estuary.  At high tides the path filled with water and for days afterward was totally unusable.   Now, one can leave their hip boots home and bird the estuary with ease.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Birding Alcatraz

                          Alcatraz Island 1895
First, a little history - Alcatraz is a world famous island that receives 5,000 visitors every day.  In 1775 Spanish explorer Juan Manuel de Ayala named the island "La Isla Los Alcatraces" or Island of the Pelican," due to its large population of sea birds.  Seventy-five years later President Millard Fillmore reserved the island for the military; a fort was needed to protect the valuable port of San Francisco.  By the late 1850s the U. S. Army turned the fort into prison for military prisoners, citizens accused of treason, and rebellious American Indians.
                (For a larger image, click on the photo)

More changes were in store for the 22 acre island.  In 1933 the Justice Department wanted a federal prison that would house dangerous criminals, including prisoners that had escaped from other prisons.  Alcatraz the prison opened on July 1, 1934; but due to the cost of maintaining a prison on an island, Alcatraz was shut down in 1963.  Nine years later the island became part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

Now, lets skip ahead to 9:15 am, Oct 1, 2014, a momentous occasion - the mile and a half ferry ride to Alcatraz, also known as "The  Rock."  The weather was perfect, blue sky, no wind and warm.  The lines for the ferry were well organized.  As we waited friend Phoebe and I enjoyed watching the people.
As we disembarked onto the island an interpretive guide was offering a tour.  Noticing his binoculars I knew in a flash he was a birder.  The tour took about 45 minutes.  Our knowledgeable and friendly guide, Michael, spoke on the history, the gardens, architecture, and the birds, frequently pointing out Anna's Hummingbird which were prevalent due to numerous flowering plants, lovingly tended by volunteers.
When the tour concluded he asked for questions.  I waited till the very last to pose my question. "Where are the best places to find birds?"  He offered to show us where to find the birds of Alcatraz.  To our delight he took us down the "Puppy Stairs," which gave us a peek at the historic garden.  The story goes, the short little steps were built by a commander to accommodate the short legs of his Corgie.  (the stairs were not open to the public)
After rounding a corner we arrived at the parade ground (photo) located below California's first Lighthouse.  In this area hundreds of Western Gull nest.   Along the outer edge piles of debris and shrubbery provide safe haven for White-crowned Sparrow, Golden-crowned Sparrow and Song Sparrow.  Large clumps of ornamental shrubs provide nesting for Snowy Egret and Black-crowned Night Heron.  (the structure to the right of the lighthouse was the warden's house)
In a nearby stand of cypress we found an unexpected treat, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Townsend Warbler and a singing Fox Sparrow.  Before our guide departed he told us to check out the seldom open Agave Trail that meanders a short distance along the edge of the island (photo taken from the Agave Trail).  Our luck continued, foraging on the rocks were a pair of Black Turnstone, Surfbird, and a Black Oystercatcher.

It seems unlikely that  birds have actually benefited from man's occupation of Alcatraz Island.  When the military arrived they reshaped the island with dynamite; tons of sandstone rubble was deposited into the bay.  Over time life grew on the rocks providing habitat for numerous species.
 Soil was brought in for gardens; trees and shrubs took hold providing more habitat - a Raven nests in one of the tall Cypress.  Piles of broken masonry became nesting sites for Brant Cormorant and Pigeon Guillemot.  Man has made a tremendous impact on this little island, but serendipity has been part of the process, and through fortunate happenstance Alcatraz has once again become a haven for birds.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

The Red Knot - Calidris Cantus

The Red Knot is a medium sized shore bird, chunky and short legged, quite similar to a Dowitcher but with a shorter bill; its winter plumage is grayish.  Dowitcher plumage is mostly light brownish.   The Knot is a tad smaller than a Dowitcher, and to confuse the identification process both birds have similar feeding strategies such as repeated, rapid probing into wet sand.

A few days ago on a drizzly, foggy morning I was standing on the edge of the pickleweed at the southern end of Morro Bay peering intently at a little gray bird probing in the sand, hoping the image in my binoculars was a Red Knot.  Of course at this time of year there is no redish color; also it would have been helpful if there had been a Dowitcher for comparison.   I was 90% certain it was a Red Knot, well maybe only 85% certain.  Even though it was foggy, fortune shined when a knowledgeable birder came upon the scene and confirmed my identification.  I was delighted with the sighting and had no idea, until I got home and began an internet search, that this sweet little bird was currently in a struggle for survival.

 From its breeding grounds in the high Arctic, the Red Knot makes a 9300 mile journey to its winter grounds in southern South America. Along the way they need to stop two or three times to refuel.  Humans actions or inaction at two of their primary stopovers are directly responsible for the rapid decline of the species.  If you would like more information on the plight of the Red Knot
go to

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Laguna Lake Revisited

        Laguna Lake August 19, 2013
Yesterday one of the top birders posted a list of eleven birds that he had seen at Laguna Lake.  This morning I set out to see how many of the eleven I could find.  I was aware the drought had affected the lake level, but was not prepared for the painful reality.  Laguna Lake was now a mere shadow if its former self.
         Laguna Lake September 9, 2014
The majority of the lake was dry.  The above photo was taken from the edge of the former lake.  For the moment there is a small area of water that supports a variety of water and shore birds.  From the list of eleven species I spotted seven. 
 American Avocet, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Western Sandpiper, and a Spotted Sandpiper fed in the muck along the edge.  About 35 White Pelican were resting on an emerging sandbar or flying directly overhead, low enough to hear the swoosh of their wings.  A large gaggle of Canada Goose were about, plus the resident Snow Goose. The morning birding left me with a troubling question.  What will happen to the birds when the water is completely gone? 

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Sweet Springs Nature Preserve

Los Osos - 9:00 am.  Birds going about their daily business - on a twig extending out from the leaning eucalyptus, in the upper center of the photo, a Belted Kingfisher perched.  Busy in the vegetation around the pond, Song Sparrow and Ms and Mr. Common Yellowthroat; in the trees Chestnut-backed Chickadee frolicked.  The call of a Nuttall's Woodpecker came from afar.  Dabbling in the pond was the white domestic duck who thinks it is a Mallard.

Onward to the overlook.  To reach the overlook one needs to cross the bridge, continue on the path to the boardwalk, turn right and in a few moments the overlook appears; there is seating and a railing for resting binoculars.  (nothing worse than tired binoculars)

Feeding along the edge of the bay were Semipalmated Plover (could not see their toes), 2 Black-bellied Plover,  handful of Least Sandpiper, 2 Greater Yellowlegs, Long-billed Curlew, Willet, and Marbled Godwit.  In the distance a cluster of White Pelican.

I was hoping to find a Northern Waterthrush, an infrequent visitor to our area, but the little tail bobber (I added "bobber" to my computer dictionary which now makes it a real word) was a no show - matters not as I was delighted with the birds and the beauty observed. 

Friday, August 22, 2014

The Semipalmated Plover

 Cayucos Beach at Old Creek - Birding with Cathy from Palm Springs on a beautiful beach day.  Recent high tides had created a shallow lagoon, a habitat returning shore birds could not resist.  Among the Willet, Godwit and Long-billed Curlew was a small flock of Semipalmated Plover.  They are a bit plump, brown overall.  A small black-tipped orange bill and orangish legs distinguishes this sweet little Plover from other small shorebirds.  They do look similar to their relative, the Killdeer.
What fascinates me about this little Plover that nests in Alaska and Northern Canada, and sometimes travels as far south as Tierra del Fuego, are its tiny toes.  After more years of birding than I wish to share, I did not know the definition of "semipalmated."  So what did I do, I Googled it. - "Semipalmated -  having the toes joined part way down with a web"

 The Semipalmated Plover has partial webbing between all of its toes, all six of them.  (Toe image borrowed from the internet.)
 Webbed toes are uncommon among shorebirds, so why does this little Plover have webbing?  It swims.  Adults and chicks swim short distances in shallow water.  Is this the reason the Semipalmated Plover has webbing between its toes?  No one knows for certain, but it makes sense to me.

Next time I am on the beach I am sure I will spend much time looking at Semipalmated Plover toes.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Heermann's Gull - Juveniles Missing

A recent posting to a birding group reported that no juvenile Heermann's Gull (Larus heermanni) were being seen on the Calif. West Coast.  (photo, adult Heermann's Gull in winter plumage)  Heermann's breed in the early spring in large colonies on islands off the West Coast of Mexico.  After the breeding season they move north along the pacific coast to Southern British Columbia.  Beginning in mid-summer large flocks of the Heermann's can be found on the Morro Strand State Beach.

Yesterday I decided to check out the Heermann's flocks to see if I could find a juvenile or the next stages of development, a 1st winter or a 1st summer.  I do enjoy a challenge. 
At first I had a problem with the flocks having to relocate due to the number of people on the beach and children who enjoy chasing birds.  Finally the flocks settled down and I was able to have a prolonged look.  Normally, younger Heermann's are scattered throughout the flock  (below photo of a 1st winter or 1st summer).  I could find only six 1st winter/1st summer and no juveniles.  The above photo represents about 1/10 of one flock. 
My observations prompted the thought, "Why a lack of youngsters?"  Perhaps environmental conditions, such as warmer water temps, algal blooms, and acidification are having an adverse effect on the ocean food chain.  What ever the reason, there were fewer young Heermann's Gull than in prior years.
On to the other birds.  To my delight, there was a variety of shore birds, Semipalmated Plover (a favorite), Long-billed Curlew, Whimbrel, Caspian and Elegant Tern, and Ring-billed Gull.  Off shore were several Eared Grebe and Surf Scoter.  Most enjoyable was watching several Marbled Godwit feeding on tiny flies on the sand that had been churned up by horse hoofs. (above photo)   

If you look at the larger image of the Godwit, you will see a distant relative of the jellyfish, Velella velella, the little bluish, transparent things in the background.   They are free-floating hydrozoans that live on the surface of the open ocean.  At certain times of year the wind propels them to shore.  At the present time there are millions of Velella velella on central coast beaches.  Happy birding!


Monday, July 21, 2014

Birding Cayucos

Cayucos - Weather warm, humid, semi-cloudy (photo of Morro Rock taken from Cayucos Beach).  The morning could not have been more perfect.  Feeding along the edge of the sea were Whimbrel, Long-billed Curlew (center photo), and Willet.  Off the beach were Surf Scoter, Western Grebe and a sprinkling of Eared Grebe in breeding plumage.

Next stop was at the northern end of Cayucos, a narrow little residential street with an overlook that looks down on a pocket beach with rock formations.  Somewhere in the rocks is a Oystercatcher nest that is easily viewed from the overlook.  Every other birder in town has seen it.  Could I find it?  No!  I tried various angles, walked down a private driveway hoping to get a view of the rocks, but no luck.  I really wasn't disappointed as I have seen them several times in MdO.

What I did observe was a feeding frenzy with Brown Pelican, 3 species of Cormorant, 3 species of Tern, gulls, and 2 Sea Lions; the chaos was marvelous.

Next stop, the Cayucos Pier, an historic landmark built in 1872 by Captain James Cass, the founder of Cayucos.  It was built out of Cambria Pines Logs for a cost of about $15,000.  The pier closed in 2013 due to damaged pilings; rebuilding is scheduled for next month.  In the meantime the precious old pier is being enjoyed by a variety of birds, mainly the very vocal and elegant, Elegant Tern, plus a few Forster's Tern and the big daddy of Terns, the Caspian.  Gulls, Western and Herrmann's are here and there and a few Brown Pelicans (photos were shot through chain link fencing).
In the foreground of the long shot are several immature Elegant Tern.  At the end of the pier the Brown Pelican perch.  I do hope the birds are not too traumatized when rebuilding begins.
Final stop of the morning was at the Turri Road Ponds.  Last week 12 Wilson's Phalarope had been seen.  Great fun to watch them spin as they feed, but the only birds feeding this morning were 6 Greater Yellowlegs.  As I turned away from the ponds I noticed a large bird feeding on the dry hillside, a female Wild Turkey;  first one I have seen in this area, snapped a few photos.  I was about to get in my car when the Turkey swooped over my head and into a dense stand of weeds near the ponds - the treat of the day.  A swooping Wild Turkey is a sight to behold - the perfect end to a perfect morning of birding the Central Coast.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

A Birding Change of Pace

Since June, I have been a participant in the docent rover program at Montaña de Oro State Park (MdO).  "What is that," you ask.  Roving is a fairly new program at MdO.  Rovers either rove the trails or people an information table at a trail head.  I rove the trails,  answering questions, interpreting nature, and have a cell phone if an emergency should arise with visitors or wildlife; sometimes, the visitors are the wildlife.  (click on the photo for a larger image)
 On June 27th. a dead Humpback Whale came ashore at Hazard Beach, one of the more remote beach areas of MdO.  The following morning Mike, a fellow rover, and I were down at the site.  Two whale researchers from Santa Barbara were gathering data.  It appeared that a severe wound to the tail, above the flukes, contributed to the death of this peaceful denizen of the deep.  For a brief video on my observations go to

 Observing this magnificent mammal was, to say the very least, an experience of my lifetime.   A few days after the first visit I was back at the site, along with many photo taking visitors (the teens were being photographed by their mother).  News of the whale's arrival had spread fast.  In the process of decomposition, gases such as ammonia, methane, and sodium nitrate build up causing the whale to bloat and turn over; now its under side was exposed and the severity of the wound to the tail could be seen.  More than likely the humpback had become entangled - a recent study showed that entanglement in fishing gear is the primary cause of Humpback Whale death.  I have a one minute video that shows the whale in the process of decomposition.

While on the beach had the pleasure of seeing a few Snowy Plover, Oystercatcher, a large flock of Heermann's Gull, Willet, Whimbrel, and a Great Egret feeding in the surf.  Oh, I must not forget the 50 or more Turkey Vultures circling over the area.

I have not been active at MdO for a couple of years and it is good to be back.



Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Birding Islay Creek

Yesterday Morning walked about a mile and a half up Islay Creek in Mondaña de Oro State Park.   Weather was mild and sunny.  The creek, located on the south side of the trail, is dense with a robust growth of vegetation consisting, primarily of Willow, Cottonwood, Bay and a few Oaks.  As one progresses up the road, the creek is deeper and farther away.  The adjoining hillsides are covered with lush chaparral; beauty and tranquility prevail.

I was birding by ear - no binoculars.  Wilson's Warbler, one of my many favorites, was carrying on something fierce.  Wrentit sang every time Mr. Wilson paused.  In the distance Swainson's Thrush was singing. See photo borrowed from Wikipedia (thank you very much).

As I progressed up the creek the Swainson's Thrush was dominant, nearly drowning out Orange-crowned Warbler, Pacific-slope Flycatcher and the precious Western Wood-Pewee.  From what I heard this perky, migrant Thrush had found a home in Islay Creek.

To hear the song of the Swainson's Thrush I am including a link to a 22 second video.   The loudest sound is a Calif. Quail.  The flute like sound is the song of the Thrush.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Birding Sweet Springs, Cerro Alto, and Turri Road

Sweet Springs - 8:00 am.  I was greeted by a robustly singing White-crowned Sparrow.  Feeding in the pond was a lone, Blue-winged Teal and a pair of Mallards.  Song Sparrow was scratching in the leaf litter, Spotted Towhee was singing.  Best birds were, Tree Swallow, Cedar Wax Wing, and a Purple Finch singing from the top of a tall Cypress.  The highlight of the visit was a lingering look at a Pacific-slope Flycatcher and a Western Tanager.
Cerro Alto - A National Forest campground off Hwy 41, between Morro Bay and Atascadero.  The road to the campground (photo) follows a creek that is densely vegetated with Willow, Oak, Sycamore, California Bay, and Poison Oak.  Wilson's Warbler, singing with intense gusto, flitted through the shrubbery.  Wilson's and Orange-crowned Warbler were numerous, House Wren was active.  As I progressed up the road the singing became intense.  In spite of the cacophony, was able to identify, Black-headed Grosbeak, Western Tanager, and Warbling Vireo.  The walk to the small camping area is beautiful but watch out for the poison oak. 
Turri Road -  Yesterday two Blue Grosbeak were seen where the creek comes close to the road; I had no luck finding them.  Continued up the road to the fallow pea field where two years ago I had seen a Blue Grosbeak.  Lazuli Bunting was singing from a large tangle of Willow (photo).  I stationed myself across the road from the Willows, as I did not want to spook the 5 inch little darling.  Finally noticed movement and was sure the bird would show his self when a band of cyclists sped by.  The singing stopped.  I waited, eventually relocating to the other side of the road.  While waiting, observed a pair of Lark Sparrows mating on a twig of a nearby Coyote Bush (a first time sighting).

After a few more minutes of quiet, the Lazuli Bunting perched on an outer twig and began to sing. I could see him perfectly.  Success!  As I was getting into my car 37 motorcycles passed by (I counted).  From now on I will only bird Turri Road on weekdays.

Monday, March 31, 2014


Montaña de Oro was spectactular yesterday morning; powerful waves pounded the rocky cliffs.  Along the Bluff Trail the abundant coyote bush sparkled from last night's brief rain.  I was traveling light, only a camera and my trusty iPod Touch.

The Pigeon Guillemots were calling to each other; they have a very high pitched whistle.  The water was so rough it was difficult to see them.  Soon they will be nesting in the cliffs.  Heard and saw several Calif. Quail.  Wrentit were singing about every quarter mile. 
 A flock of Pelagic Cormorant with a few of the larger Brandt's Cormorant were doing their morning preening.  I do believe I have never seen this rock without a flock of Pelagic Cormorants on it.  Not in the photo, lower down the rock, was a pair of Black Oystercatcher.  Both the Pelagic and Brandt's Cormorant nest on Morro Rock.  The Pelagic also nests on narrow ledges of Montaña de Oro's cliffs.  Counting the gulls and Cormorants, only observed 10 species of birds. 

From my observations along the trail, land birds were scarce; the on-going drought is taking its toil on our bird population.  Birds that were missing, Golden-crowned Sparrow, Song Sparrow (always singing this time of year), Bewick's Wren (no males singing from atop a bush), Say's and Black Phoebe (no insects for them to eat), Anna's Hummer (nothing blooming), and no Hawks.  Along the Bluff Trail spring was silent.

Friday, March 21, 2014


Goat Camp Trail - White Tank Mountains.  I walked the gently meandering trail about a mile and a half through the most beautiful Arizona landscape I have seen.  In the above photo notice the abundance of holes in the Giant Saguaro; only two species of birds excavate these cavities, Gila Woodpecker and Gilded Flicker.  The Flicker often digs several holes before finding just the right one for a nest; and each year excavates new nest holes.  Due to the abundance of holes several species of birds nest in the Saguaro cavities, for example: American Kestrel (saw one perched atop a Saguaro), Cactus Wren, Purple Marten, 3 species of owl.  I had the thrill of seeing both the Gila Woodpecker and the Gilded Flicker excavating nest holes in the Giant Saguaro.
Spring was showing its colors, Brittle Bush (Encelia farinosa) (above), many species of tiny flowers, creosote bush, poppies, and some cacti were blooming.  The abundance of Teddy Bear Cholla Cactus (below), known as the jumping cactus, tends to keep one on the trail.  Get anywhere near the Cholla and a clump of it will magically attach itself to your body.  To seed itself, the Cholla drops little spiny clumps.  If you take a misstep, one will grab on to your shoe or leg (ouch!).
My trip to Arizona was to visit family who live a bit west of Phoenix.  Nearby are two of my favorite birding areas,  the Tres Rios Wetland and Estrella Regional Park.

The Tres Rios Wetland  is located off 91st St. across from the Phoenix waste water treatment facility.  Birds of note were, Thousands of Yellow-headed and Red-winged Blackbirds nesting in the reeds; Cinnamon Teal, Ring-billed Duck, an Osprey perched in a Cottonwood, precious Verdin nesting in Palo Verde Trees, and the treat of the day, 2 soaring Black Vultures.

Estrella Park, 18 miles Southwest of Phoenix offers 33 miles of trails.  On a two mile hike observed Gambels Quail, Phanopepla, Gila Woodpecker excavating a hole in a Saguaro, and the bird of the day, a first time sighting of a Black-tailed Gnatcatcher.  Birding was excellent in Arizona.