Monday, June 20, 2011

Desert Botanical Garden

I decided to spend my final morning in Arizona on a birdwalk at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix. This is always a great place to visit, partly for the amazing plants that grow there and partly for the birds that the site attracts. I was hoping to see some more woodpeckers and some Phainopeplas, as well as perhaps an Elf Owl.

The Garden is in desert scattered with large hills of red sandstone.

I couldn't understand how some plants at the entrance were so bright - until I got near enough to see they were actually glass sculptures by Dale Chihuly. 

As I wanted to concentrate on birds, I resolved not to take photos of plants. However, I just had to make an exception for this century plant in the early morning sunlight.

The walk began with the unexpected sighting of a pair of Northern Cardinals, immediately followed by good views of flocks of Lesser Goldfinch.

Lesser Goldfinch

A female Brown-headed Cowbird was travelling around with a pair of males.

As it was early summer, White-winged Doves were everywhere we went around Phoenix, and most of them seemed to be perched atop saguaro cactuses.

There were a few Mourning Doves also, including one that was nesting among the branches of a saguaro.

The doves weren't the only familiar birds that I came across in the gardens. House Finches were around, too, enjoying the saguaro blossoms.


We saw a lot of Anna's and Black-chinned Hummingbirds. The male Anna's were busy doing display dives, while the females were more concerned with feeding.

Abert's Towhees, Verdins and Cactus Wrens were present, of course.

Abert's Towhee
Cactus Wren

Like the Finches, some of the Wrens were feeding on the saguaro blossoms.

This male Gambel's Quail was standing guard while his mate and their young were foraging for food on the ground.

A Phainopepla and a Northern Flicker put in a very brief appearance, and I grabbed a quick shot of the Flicker.

One of target birds was Ladder-backed Woodpecker and I was thrilled when one flew onto a saguaro right in front of me.


I soon saw another of my target birds, a Gila Woodpecker.

I had already seen plenty of Curve-billed Thrashers at Thunderbird Park but I couldn't resist taking several photos of this one flying in to munch on saguaro flowers.


All of us in the group stopped to watch as two American Kestrels mobbed a Red-tailed Hawk perched on a distant tree. Unfortunately, the scene unfolded too far away for photos.

I never got to see an Elf Owl but I did see several impressive Desert Spiny Lizards. As with anoles, the male of this species puffs up his throat to impress females.

My final sighting was of a Whiptailed Lizard. This was much smaller than the Spiny Lizards but was even more beautifully patterned. 

After the Desert Botanical Garden I had to head back to pick up Dee and to drive for the airport.

Although the summer is not the best time for birding the Phoenix area and I was not able to do a lot of birdwatching, our trip was quite productive. I saw over 50 species, including many of my favorite desert birds and 25 that were new for the year. So my 2011 list now stands at 282 species, only 17 short of my total for the whole of 2010. 

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