My Birding Pal Experience - Tucson 2016

birding pal logoBirding Pal, the Bird Watching Club for World Travelers

You may have heard of them. The concept is simple. Local knowleadgable birders pay a $10 sign-up fee to be a birding pal tour guide.  

The guide's profile is then listed in the appropriate geographic locale of the Birding Pal site. 

Travellers, who also pay a $10 fee, are then able to contact guides in the area.  Emails are exchanged and hopefully, an outing is arranged. This all sounded quite intriguing.

Birding Pals are not paid tour guides.  They are volunteers, who generously offer their time and share their knowledge.

A "professional" guide could cost anywhere from $300 to $1000 a day. I bit the bullet, spent the $10 and contacted a couple Tucson Birding Pals. 

When no one replied to my initial inquiries, I emailed ten additional local guides. 




A day or so later I connected via email with Roger T, a local Tucson birding pal.  We agreed to a one day outing and met a week later at the Sweetwater Wetlands water treatment facility, touted as the best wetland birding in Tucson.

It was easy to find Roger; he was the only car in the parking lot at 6:30 am.  I did note that when we left 4 hours later a handful of cars had arrived.

Roger, at age 79, is long ago retired, and boasts over 4,000 ticks on his life list.  I suspect he remembers seeing every one of them.  He knows his birds well, their habits colorations, and most importantly, knows where to find them.  I was lucky to connect with him.

Roger meant business. He mildly accosted me for not having binoculars.  I had left them in the car. "You can’t bird without binoculars."  It's tough enough managing two cameras, I thought to myself.  


After birding the site for an hour or so I returned to the car to grab my binoculars.
Roger was right.  It is so much easier to follow a bird through binoculars than through a telephoto lens.
I learned that it just might be better to get eyes on the bird first, and then try to take the photo.


In the couple hours we walked the property, I ticked off four lifers: a cinnamon teal (family), a beautiful bright yellow warbler, a widgeon, and a flock of yellow-headed blackbirds (though I did not actually see their yellow heads). 

Roger pointed out Song Sparrows, red-winged blackbirds, Grackles, Ruddy and Mallard Ducks, grebes and a common coot. In addition we saw an Orange-crowned warbler, a couple yellow-rumped ones, as well as a black phoebe, some Verdin and goldfinch. 

An Abert’s Towhee scratched at the gravel as a few White-crowned sparrows flittered along the fence line.  

A distant Anna’s hummingbird sat too far away for a good photo. 


I flushed out a Lucy's warbler
that turned out to be a black-tailed gnatcatcher.


An obligatory Cooper’s hawk eyed a flock of rock doves from his perch
high above the wetlands. He watched a red-tailed hawk fly by. 



As is customary under the Birding Pal program,
I bought Roger a late breakfast.  Typically, expenses like entrance
fees, food, and gas is covered by the traveller.  

The Birding Pal tour guide should not be out of pocket for anything.

Over a rejuvenating cup of coffee, Roger insisted that before I leave, we bird along Mount Lemmon’s scenic highway.  It was a must do for any serious birder, he said.  Connie easily agreed to join us the following Thursday.

In this case we used Roger’s lifetime Senior’s park pass to offset
the park fees and we used my car, so the gas was on me. 



Mount Lemmon

The following Thursday we met again. I was late and Roger was quick to point it out.  I felt bad for having kept him waiting.  We quickly set that aside and began our ascent from 2640 feet to ultimately 8500 feet at the top. 

Roger explained that the birding population changed at various elevations.  As the temperatures dropped, 5 degrees for every 1000, feet we went from a balmy 70 degrees to a nippy 40.

First stop was Rose Canyon Lake where Roger's friend ran a camp ground. 
The friend lamented that he had been too busy of late to look for birds. 


No sooner had we said our goodbyes and were headed back to the car when
a couple Western bluebirds caught our attention, another lifer (five)

I saw my first dark-eyed (six)

and then an evil looking yellow-eyed junco (seven).  That makes seven lifers to date.



No make that eight, there’s a Hutton’s Vireo. 


Our next stop was a productive half hour at Bear Wallow.  

We came upon a mixed flock of juncos and spotted-towhees, and we saw another Hutton's Vireo, (that may have been a ruby-crowned kinglet).




Before leaving the area a couple of clown-like colorful
Acorn Woodpeckers (nine) made our acquaintance. 




 We next made our way to Marshall Gulch,

a picnic area set amongst the tall ponderosa pines.  




Roger noted pygmy nuthatches, although I can’t honestly say I saw one clearly enough to count.  
High in the treetops, a flock of Type 7 Red Crossbills feasted on pine cones.  That makes ten lifers so far.



Mount Lemmon highway dead ends at the Mount Lemmon General Store and Gift Shop set within a wonderful hiking and picnic area.  As the nearby ski resort readied for the season, a few straggling, under dressed tourist shivered in the cool mountain air. 


We were met by a hermit thrush (eleven)
and the above red-napped sapsucker (twelve), two more lifers. 



A tassel-eared squirrel posed for a couple shots
and we saw a few more junco’s hanging around. 



The local Stellar Jay family (thirteen) put on
quite the show when the gift shop owner set out some peanuts.


animated GIF


Lunch, once again, was my treat.  We had a choice of two restaurants.
We went with the $11 Chili and $6 coffee at what proved to be the least expensive place of the two. 


The grub warmed us up but burned a big hole in the wallet.  At any rate, it was a small price to pay to spend the day in such surroundings with such good company. 


As I approached the car to begin our descent, I noticed numerous cactus thorns
stuck in my rental car tires and it made me think.... 




From where I stood, the vast Sonoran Desert spread out some 6000 feet below. 

Within that short span there exists a series
of environments similar to what you would find
in the 1650 miles between Tucson and Banff, Alberta,
Canada, next door to where I was born.



I was pleased with the decision to try Birding Pal.

We were privileged to have Roger T as our guide.


Roger is what the Birding Pal experience is all about. 

He is personable, knows his birds,
where to find them, their colorations and their calls.
He is eager to share that knowledge. 

Roger T, and by extension, delivered big time.

We were treated to some Tucson scenery and plenty of birds, including thirteen lifers.



I suspect that not all Birding Pal rendezvouses
will be as perfect as this one was, but I look forward to finding out.

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