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2019-10-24 Catalina State Park

Cactus Wren - Campylorhynchus brunneicapillus
The “Birding Trail Loop” at Catalina State Park, north of Tucson Arizona is favorite destination for bird lovers. Depending on the season, it can yield some nice bird encounters.

After my all-day marathon photo-safari at the Boyce Thompson Arboretum on Wednesday, I was too tired to drive very far south towards Tucson. I stopped in nearby Superior Arizona for a bite to eat at a local Mexican restaurant and bought some mediocre chile rellenos. Then I had to intervene at the checkout when they tried to add $4 in charges for items I didn’t order or receive. I drove south five miles and found a wide spot at the side of the road to stay for the night. I had an interest in seeing the sights on this road, as it was new to me. Night driving would have deprived me that experience. Much of the scenery on this road (SR 177) is the rugged Arizona desert mountains that make Arizona’s back roads so interesting. But hidden away on this route are two horrible scars caused by man’s pursuit of minerals for profit. Open pit mines create some of the ugliest landscapes on the face of the earth.

I had breakfast the next morning in Winkelman Arizona, a small town south of the second pit mine I passed. There I ran into a San Diego expat while I was stopped for breakfast at Maria’s Family Restaurant, the only eatery in this small mining town. He and I were the only ones in the restaurant. I learned that he moved here because the company he was working for moved him here. Now retired, he could no longer afford to live in San Diego. I guess housing costs here are pretty low.

My drive to Tucson took me past Catalina State Park. I’d been there once before years ago and I wanted to pay another visit. The park is at the foot of the Catalina Mountains at their southwestern corner. A dry wash runs north to south and trails probe the Mesquite bosques and the desert scrub of the slopes on both sides of the park.

I prepared for my walk by outfitting myself with my folding stool, my binoculars, my phone, my camera and tripod, and WATER! My dear niece Marnie and her youngest daughter Lexi bought me a high-end stainless steel water bottle with a built-in straw for my last birthday and I’ve been forgetting to take it with me on my recent walks… not this day though. She also got me a holster with a shoulder strap to carry it. The folding stool also has a holster with a shoulder strap (that I added), so I had crisscrossing shoulder straps on my walk while packing my 35 pounds of camera equipment and all the other gear mentioned above. I used every piece of the gear I brought with me. The trail I chose was the 1.3 mile “Birding Loop Trail” which meanders through the mixed mesquite woodlands on the valley floor and then climbs the overlooking bluffs, before descending back to the floor and completing the loop.

I stopped at locations where I spotted any bird movement, but the best stop was on the bluff at the top of the steps of the western loop. I found the shade of a small bush to give my back some relief from the sun. Then I setup my stool and camera while I picked off the occasional bird passing by. There weren’t many other hikers on the trail on this morning, but the folks that were there seemed to show up just as I was getting focused on my avian prey. The trail was narrow, and there was no way for the other hikers to avoid me. Everyone was nice but some just wanted to gab. What can I say? It was a beautiful day.

The birds I saw or heard were Black-Throated Sparrow, Bewick’s Wren, Ruby-Crowned Kinglet, Ladder-Backed Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Gila Woodpecker, Cactus Wren, and Curve-Billed Thrasher.

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