Memories of Sabino Canyon

Greater Roadrunner - Geococcyx californianus
In the act of digging out a large Desert Spiny Lizard. Sabino Canyon Recreation Area in northern Tucson Arizona.

For my money, Sabino Canyon is the crown jewel of all Tucson Birding Destinations. I’ve not been here often enough to advise on the best time of the year for a visit. It would not come as a surprise to me if folks more familiar with the seasonal ebb and flow told me, “ANY time of the year is the RIGHT time”. My two visits were late November 2008, and late April 2017. I found both visits rewarding.

My time there in 2008 provided opportunities to photograph many of the “usual suspects” in the arid desert environment. Among the subjects I captured were Cactus Wren, Black-Throated Sparrow, Gambel’s Quail, Northern Mockingbird and Ladder-Backed Woodpecker. I enjoyed an especially intimate encounter with the woodpecker.

Because it provided me with my first meeting with the Brown-Crested Flycatcher, I have to claim my 2017 visit as my favorite one (so far). Another highlight this day was an opportunity to observe and photograph a tenacious Greater Roadrunner capturing a very large Desert Spiny Lizard. While I was working to catch flycatcher images, I couldn’t help but notice the roadrunner feverishly poking, digging and scratching away at a dried cactus stump. I was on the wrong side of the stump to see what the bird was so interested in, so I worked my way around to the other side without disturbing the action. Soon after I set up my camera and tripod, the bird extracted a huge lizard and brutally dispatched it. If you or I were to treat another creature as the bird did, we’d be pinned to the ropes by PITA and the ASPCA, but this was nature in action.

This park rests north of Tucson at the foot of the Catalina Mountains. I’ve only visited the lower slopes, but there is a tram-like bus that operates from a paved road that goes 3.8 miles up slope. I hope to try it out on my next visit. I understand there are many stops along the way where visitors can disembark and explore trails on foot. I think that could be a lot of fun.

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