Postcards from Arizona and Oregon

Patagonia, Arizona, Saturday, August 19, 2000

We've been promising ourselves another trip to southeastern Arizona for hummingbird migration ever since we were here four years ago. We have come a month earlier this time in hope of seeing species we missed then.

We had to be at Newark Airport early this morning, but I took the time to top off the thistle seed feeders to be sure our three resident pairs of Goldfinches will have plenty to eat while we're away. (One pair brought a baby to the feeders yesterday morning while I sat having breakfast in front of the window that overlooks the feeders. The baby perched on a crossbar squealing and flapping its wings to convince its father to feed it.)

On the flight from Newark to Phoenix, I read the new Scientific American and was especially interested in the article about the work being done to prevent the collapse of Frank Lloyd Wright's glorious Fallingwater. The building was in trouble from the beginning (despite the fact that the firm that supplied the reinforcing steel for the concrete beams that support the balconies cantilevered over the stream insisted upon doubling Wright's steel specification):

When the workers removed the wooden formwork from beneath the concrete of the first floor, they recorded an instantaneous downward movement of 44.5 millimeters. It is not unusual for a small amount of deflection to occur when the scaffolding is removed from a concrete structure, but in this case the bending was especially pronounced. Mosher, the apprentice on site, telephoned Glickman [one of Wright's engineers] at the studio in Taliesin. After a quick check of his calculations Glickman is reported to have exclaimed, "Oh my God, I forgot the negative reinforcement!"
The balconies have sagged further over the years, opening up cracks in the parapets. In 1997, the first floor balcony was propped up with some fairly unobtrusive steel beams as a temporary expedient while engineers analyzed the building and worked out a plan that will reinforce it without visible changes. The engineer in charge, Robert Silman, explains their plan (which is to be implemented late next year):
Planned repairs involve relieving the stresses in the cantilever beams through the creative use of post-tensioning. Steel cables will be rigged on both sides of each beam, anchored in concrete blocks attached to the beam's ends. The cables will then be tightened from the outside using a hydraulic jack. The tension in the cables will exert a positive bending moment on the beam, counteracting the negative moment caused by cantilever action.
I spent the last part of the trip going over recent reports of rarities from the area we'll be visiting. The plane took a very southerly route, so we saw no signs of the fires ravaging the West. When we got to the basin and range country, we began seeing the "sky island" mountains as patches of dark green against the surrounding deserts. Most trailed a puffy white cloud.

The rental car we picked up at Phoenix's Sky Harbor airport has a display of the outside temperature. As we left the airport, it showed 106 F! As we drove further through the desert (the larger plants here are Saguaro, Cholla, Ocotillo, Paloverde), the temperature peaked at 107 and I felt my skin burning through my clothing, so I retreated to the shady side of the back seat.

By the time we reached the vicinity of Tucson, we could see dark clouds over the mountains ahead of us, with draperies of rain (and lots of lightning) reaching to the ground. We soon turned south off of the Interstate. As the road rose to around 4000 feet, the temperature dropped below 90 F. As we neared Patagonia, a violent rainstorm dropped the temperature another 20 degrees.

When we reached Patagonia, we turned left at the Velvet Elvis Pizza Company and headed for the Stage Stop Inn, Patagonia's only motel. We checked in and then had a dinner of good chili burritos while watching the Barn Swallows cavorting above the swimming pool in the motel's small courtyard. (They seem to have nests in the eaves of the second-story balcony.)

After dinner, we walked around town a bit. As we stood looking up at a dozen adult and juvenile Barn Swallows perched on a wire, somebody small but lethal-looking flew over and called "kee-kee-kee"; the swallows erupted from the wire to seek cover.

The town center contains a long narrow park that used to be a railroad line, and the town administration is housed in what is obviously the former railroad station. We walked through the park for a while but were too tired to spot any interesting birds if any were there. We were in bed by 7pm Mountain Standard Time.

Patagonia, Arizona, Sunday, August 20, 2000

We had a quick breakfast in our room and then dashed to the Nature Conservancy's Patagonia Preserve to be there when it opened at 6:30 this morning. We were all alone there for quite a while so we stood in the shade of the headquarters building looking around the meadow, which was bright with wildflowers and atwitter with birds (most of which we failed to identify).

I made the mistake of not taking the time to id a kingbird while I could see it, thinking I could do so later from the fieldmarks I'd memorized; it was either a Western or a Cassin's, for both of which the field guide says "orange-red crown patch is usually concealed". We saw the patch clearly, so it must have been one or the other.

We did have a clear view of a female Vermilion Flycatcher, a very pretty bird with a peach-colored breast. And I had a glimpse of a male Summer Tanager flying away. There was a Loggerhead Shrike chasing something in the parking lot.

As we were walking through the meadow to go to the woods, I stopped to show Lee a tiny, vividly blue Indigo Bunting perched near the trail. It soon flew but we found it again perched on a tall dried weed. Six inches above it on the same weed sat a Lazuli Bunting. What a delight to have the two of them together! We got further looks at the Lazuli in bright sunlight ("bright turquoise above and on throat; cinnamon across breast; thick white wing bars")--really beautiful!

Once we got into the woods, we sat on a bench on the old railroad embankment. We kept being buzzed by hummingbirds that moved too fast to see, let alone identify. A Yellow Warbler hopped about in the bushes before us. Then we spotted a cuckoo's tail peeking through the bushes and finally saw the whole bird, a Yellow-billed Cuckoo.

We walked further along the trails, but the temperature was climbing rapidly and activity was slowing, so we left to go to the Famous Patagonia Rest Stop, one of the world's most noted birding venues. Pete Dunne has written:

And, of course, no birder could speak of Arizona and fail to mention the "Famous Patagonia Rest Stop"--home of the Rose-throated Becard, the Thick-billed Kingbird, and the Violet-crowned Hummingbird, birth- place of the "Patagonia Picnic Table Effect": If a spot holds a good bird, it will attract good birders who in turn will find other good birds, which will in turn attract other good birders, who will in turn find...
Like many others, we were alarmed to read in the July issue of Winging It (in an article subtitled Bye Bye Becard?):
The renowned Roadside Rest Area along State Route 82 in Patagonia, Arizona, in recent years the home of the most famous Rose-throated Becards in the galaxy, may be substantially altered by a construction project prompted by concerns over falling rocks. The Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) considers the area at risk for rock slides that would pose hazards to traffic. The proposed construction has alarmed many local birders who fear damage to sensitive habitat and consider the project unnecessary....

Local birders are upset for several reasons. First, even the most benign of the proposed construction plans will damage a certain amount of high-quality habitat. Second, the project will make the area less birdable--for example, forcing elderly birders to clamber over a guard rail in order to bird safely off the roadway (an estimated 10,000 birders visit the site each year). And finally, the fact that ADOT is persisting with construction plans at a site with high symbolic value to birders is perceived by some as insensitive in this region where bird tourism is a major economic force.

One imagines that ADOT had no idea that this is holy ground and was unprepared for the emotional public meetings and the mountain of email from around the world protesting the plan. (It is rather hard to see the need for such a plan--the cliff from which the rocks would fall seems safely far away from the highway.) An ADOT spokesman has said that the environmental impact will be minor, since "the least intrusive alternative impacts a maximum of 30 trees". (I think that when a bureaucrat says that he is going to "impact" a tree, he means that he is going to cut it down.)

We've never seen the Rose-throated Becard, but the word is that none have come to the Rest Stop this year, although as far as we could see the only change so far has been the repaving of the road through the Rest Stop. The Thick-billed Kingbirds, however, are said to be present this year. And, indeed, we had a kingbird perched low above the parking area as we drove up. On our last trip, we decided that kingbirds were too much work to differentiate, but this time I'm giving it a try. Unfortunately, this kingbird flew off before I even found the kingbird pages in our field guide.

We had a silky black Phainopepla as soon as we got out of the car and then a not so silky Black Vulture. We walked along the stream across the road to look for kingfishers. (If ADOT wants to spend some money, how about something to make it safer for the 10,000 birders to cross that highway?) No luck with kingfishers (Green and Belted Kingfishers have been reported "at the Rest Stop" recently), but we did have a Bridled Titmouse in the trees and a Black Phoebe catching grasshoppers along the stream. (The number of grasshoppers and dragonflies here is astounding.)

When we judged the hour to be reasonable for visiting someone's back yard, we made our way to the Paton's house, which is our main reason for visiting Patagonia. Their yard was as we remembered it: a few rows of lawn chairs under a canvas canopy facing nine hummingbird feeders hung along the eaves at the back of their house.

There were dozens and dozens of hummingbirds. I was in heaven. We'd soon made out:

None of these hummers was new to us but they were all a joy to see.

At the seed feeders nearby were Vermilion Flycatcher, Acorn Woodpecker, and Gambel's Quail.

We were surprised not to see Anna's Hummingbirds (which live here year round), and we had sort of hoped to see Calliope (migrating through from the mountains of the Northwest) and Broad-tailed (another resident). (The Calliope and the Broad-tailed would be life birds for us.)

After a couple of happy hours, we went back to the motel for a lunch of their very good chili. As we ate, we watched swallows swoop down to drink from the swimming pool. After lunch, we went up to look at their nests on the balcony above the pool. One nest was being sat on, and we could make out two fluffy babies in another.

Then it was time for a nap (no point going out looking for birds in such heat). We slept until we were wakened by thunder and heavy rain. While Lee read, I started a large embroidery of a Violet-crowned Hummingbird perched next to a morning glory blossom. It is such fine cross-stitch (18 stitches to the inch, or 324 stitches to the square inch) that I will be lucky to finish it in this lifetime.

Around 5, we went back to the Paton's. The rain had cooled the air, and the light was very good for seeing iridescence. We finally saw some Anna's Hummingbirds with their wonderful rose-red iridescent hoods. The male Rufous Hummingbirds were glowing red and gold, and the Broad-billed, blue and green. There were two (conspicuously large) Violet-crowned at once.

Nobody was there except us and the birds until Mrs. Paton came out to change a feeder. She stopped to chat and told us that in three weeks all of the hummingbirds except the Anna's will be gone and that she'll miss the others during the winter. She commented that she has been keeping an open yard for many years and has never once had any trouble with the visiting birders, which didn't surprise us at all. We were happy to have the opportunity to thank her for her hospitality.

We left at dinner time and saw a Vermilion Flycatcher and a Ladder-backed Woodpecker on our way out of the yard and then a Gila Woodpecker across the street. Dinner was tacos (we try not to miss a chance for real Tex-Mex food).

Lee's legs are a mass of chigger bites that we suspect he got at the Preserve. I've no bites at all, but I'm not sure I've convinced him that the difference is that I put insect repellent on my feet and legs this morning and he didn't.

As I put away my embroidery before turning out the light, he congratulated me on now being "one-quadrillionth of the way done".

Ramsey Canyon, Arizona, Monday, August 21, 2000

Since our last visit, we've learned about the Patagonia Lake State Park, which we've seen described as a badly under-valued birding venue. We'd not been able to find out its hours, so we took a chance and drove out there very early this morning.

As we came over the last arid hill before the turnoff, we had a splendid view 15 miles south to the town of Nogales with the mountains of northern Mexico beyond it. Then we found the sign that says that the state park doesn't open until 8am--not very birder-friendly.

We drove back to the Rest Stop and explored the trail along the stream, where we could hear many more birds than we could see. Lee left me there to sit by the stream for an hour looking for kingfishers. Again, I had no kingfishers, despite the fact that I was wearing my Buff-breasted Paradise Kingfisher shirt, but it was a beautiful morning and I enjoyed watching the Bridled Titmice and the Yellow Warblers and seeing the sunlight move down the small red mountain on the other side of the stream.

Lee returned around 8 and we went off to the state park, which was just full of birds despite its aridity. The "trash bird" in the park is the Great-tailed Grackle, which plays that part to the hilt; the air was filled with grackle calls the entire time we were there.

We quickly had a Say's Phoebe perched on a sign and then, at long last, my life Roadrunner! The Roadrunner was walking around the edges of the parking area and was tame enough to let us approach closely. We got good long looks (including at the blue and red skin behind its eye) and heard its call and saw it hunting and scratching itself and climbing in a tree and flying a short way. It was a very satisfying first look at a bird that eluded me on our earlier trips to the Southwest. (And it reminded us both of the Hoatzins we saw in Peru last year.)

We drove to the trailhead recommended for birders and parked there among the chattering grackles. The trail went over a very dry hill (lots of prickly pears). We found a Black-headed Grosbeak among some sheltered trees. After a while, we got down to the water's edge into an entirely different habitat--reeds, frogs croaking, Coots swimming silently in and out of the reeds. We had a near, but brief, look at a Virginia's Warbler. Further on, we were befuddled by some myiarchus flycatchers (Brown-crested or Ash-throated or Dusky-capped) and a female hummingbird.

When it got too hot to stay any longer, we walked back up the trail among a million grasshoppers that revealed bright red backs when they hopped. Standing at the top of a hill and looking way across the lake, we could see some cormorants basking. These "should" be Neotropical Cormorants, but they were too far away for us to be sure. Driving back through the park, we paused for another look at the Roadrunner; then we headed into town to pack and check out.

While Lee was packing, I went up to the balcony to look at the swallow nests with my binoculars. I soon discovered that the nest we'd thought was being sat on actually has two young in it that are so large they are overflowing the nest; they were practicing wing-flapping and will surely be fledged soon. The nest with the babies actually has four of them. They have just a few fuzzy feathers on their heads and spend most of their time sleeping, except when a parent comes with food, when all the heads pop up and the bright yellow gapes open to beg.

Before leaving Patagonia, we made one last visit to the Paton's house. Several older men were sitting there when we arrived, so we asked them about the Whiskered Screech Owl we'd been told roosted in a tree above the horse corral next door. They showed us where the roost had been but said the bird hadn't been around for several months. ("Think tiny when you look for it", one of them said to us.) They allowed as how somebody had told them there was a male Calliope Hummingbird (my most-wanted bird) at the feeders this morning, but they'd not seen it themselves.

We stayed long enough to see a Violet-crowned one last time and then returned to the motel for one last bowl of their great chili, and then we headed north and east and south again to get to Sierra Vista.

The countryside we passed through was much more lush (though still arid) than it was the last time we were here. We are here in what is called the monsoon season; there are frequently thunderstorms visible in one direction or the other.

We looked for Pronghorn Antelope along the way, as we'd been told to do, but found none. We did, however (now that my jinx has been broken), spot a Roadrunner crossing the road.

When we got to Sierra Vista, we decided to drive up Miller's Canyon, a new canyon for us. The road claims to be "unmaintained" and that was conspicuously true. When we got to the end, we parked at the trailhead and walked up to Beatty's, an orchard/apiary/B&B known for its hummers. We found the "public viewing area", twenty or more hummingbird feeders along a gravel path. The feeders were swarming with hummingbirds, hundreds of them. (Actually, recent estimates based on the amount of sugar-water consumed at Beatty's suggest that there may be as many as 10,000 hummingbirds coming to their feeders each day during the migratory peak.) We sat at a picnic table under a canvas canopy to watch, but it was very hot and a man and a woman were arguing loudly in a nearby house, so we didn't stay long.

We drove back down Miller's Canyon (pausing to view some Pinyon Jays) and then up the nearby Ramsey Canyon to the Nature Conservancy's Ramsey Canyon Preserve, where we checked into the B&B, another place famous for hummingbird viewing. The B&B is exquisite, beautifully furnished with antiques, but there were almost no hummingbirds at its feeders. (In the past, it had many more feeders and many more hummingbirds and was known especially for its White-eared Hummingbirds, birds so rare that they have no distribution map in the National Geographic field guide, which calls them "rare in southeastern Arizona; very rare in southwest New Mexico, west Texas".)

We dumped our things in our very pretty room and then headed up the hill to the Preserve's feeders. The hummingbird viewing area I remembered so fondly from before is now parking lot; the new area is behind the headquarters building.

Just in front of the headquarters building, we found a scope focused on the nest of a Berylline Hummingbird on a branch of a big sycamore tree. Berylline Hummingbird is a spectacularly beautiful little bird, mostly bright iridescent green all over except that it looks as though it has been dipped tail-first into dark brown paint (to about halfway up its wings). (For a perfect photograph of a Berylline, see page 76 of the September, 2000, issue of Smithsonian magazine.) Berylline, too, has no distribution map in Geo, which says, "very rare summer visitor from Mexico to mountains of southeastern Arizona; has bred there".

This particular Berylline has made herself quite famous this summer for breeding in southeastern Arizona. This is her third nest of the season! The first nest successfully fledged one young; the second was destroyed by a violent storm; and now the eggs in her third nest should be hatching in a few more days. We had never seen a Berylline before and have been looking forward to seeing this one.

The Preserve's new viewing area was definitely a disappointment. It is much too dark for good seeing; the benches are too far from the birds; and the area is too isolated (I really missed the camaraderie of the old viewing area, where the benches were full of people who'd sat down "for just a few minutes" and found themselves unable to leave). We watched for a while but there weren't many birds, so we headed back to the B&B, where we consoled ourselves with slices of their famous fresh-baked pies (blueberry for me and pecan for Lee) followed by a nap and a shower.

After we woke, we sat with other guests on the B&B's porch watching the nearby feeders before going into town to look (successfully) for the restaurant we'd enjoyed before but whose name we couldn't remember.

I've begun re-reading Huckleberry Finn:

You don't know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain't no matter. That book was made by Mr. Mark Twain, and he told the truth, mainly. There was things which he stretched, but mainly he told the truth.
"Now we'll start this band of robbers and call it Tom Sawyer's Gang. Everybody that wants to join has got to take an oath, and write his name in blood."

Everybody was willing. So Tom got out a sheet of paper that he had wrote the oath on, and read it. It swore every boy to stick to the band, and never tell any of the secrets; and if anybody done anything to any boy in the band, whichever boy was ordered to kill that person and his family must do it, and he mustn't eat and he mustn't sleep till he had killed them and hacked a cross in their breasts, which was the sign of the band. And nobody that didn't belong to the band could use that mark, and if he did he must be sued; and if he done it again he must be killed. And if anybody that belonged to the band told the secrets, he must have his throat cut, and then have his carcass burnt up and the ashes scattered all around, and his name blotted off the list with blood and never mentioned again by the gang, but have a curse put on it and be forgot forever.

Everybody said it was a real beautiful oath, and asked Tom if he got it out of his own head. He said some of it, but the rest was out of pirate-books and robber-books, and every gang that was high-toned had it....

Then they all stuck a pin in their fingers to get blood to sign with, and I made my mark on the paper.

Pure pleasure.

Ramsey Canyon, Arizona, Tuesday, August 22, 2000

We were up early this morning to hike up Ramsey Canyon to our lucky bench to see if we could repeat the miracle from four years ago and find ourselves an Elegant Trogon. We'd been told that no trogons have been seen in the canyon for a couple of weeks, so we weren't surprised not to find one. (One wintered over here last year, but usually they migrate south around the beginning of September.) We did see a few other birds, however, including Mexican Jays and Cassin's Finches.

The B&B takes breakfast very seriously, as we learned when we showed up slightly late (but fortunately not before the food was gone). We were served eggs scrambled with cheese and spinach, bacon, excellent home-made sticky buns, and a parfait of yogurt and strawberries. There were a dozen other guests at the table (surprisingly few of them birders), and the conversation was great fun. As we finished stuffing ourselves, the cook asked us all what kinds of pies she should bake for us today.

Lee had brought work along, so he spent the morning figuring out record layouts for the Library, while I spent the morning at the Preserve's hummingbird feeders. In addition to the Rufous, Black-chinned, and Anna's we saw in Patagonia, there were:

All of these are Mexican birds with distributions that just barely reach Arizona. (The avifauna of North America was significantly enriched by the Gadsden Purchase.)

The viewing continued to be disappointing. Because of the poor light, I never succeeded in catching the (fondly-remembered) iridescence of the Magnificent and the White-eared. (If you're wondering whether there really can be one hummingbird that deserves to be called "Magnificent" when they're all so lovely, the answer is yes.) Lee joined me toward the end of the morning, however, and together we had one spectacularly iridescent view of a male Blue-throated. We also succeeded in seeing a few sparkles when the female Berylline came around to the viewing area feeders. (She usually goes to a feeder closer to her nest.)

We stopped to spend a few minutes in the Preserve's bookstore (where I bought a Roadrunner T-shirt and a book about Roadrunners to celebrate yesterday's Roadrunner sighting) before we drove down to town for a good chili lunch followed by a long search for a place to buy postage stamps. On our way down the canyon, we paused to let a troop of turkeys cross the road.

I spent most of the afternoon back in the hummingbird area. The nice naturalist for the Preserve, Mark Pretti, stopped by for a while. I asked him whether they'd had any Lucifer Hummingbirds recently ("uncommon; rare in southeast Arizona and southwest New Mexico") and he said they'd had none this year or last. He hadn't seen a male Calliope for several days but he showed me a female Calliope at one of the feeders and pointed out the very short beak and tail and the buffy belly and added that they tend to sit at the feeder for longer than other species. When I told him I was having difficulty identifying Broad-tailed Hummingbirds, he found me both a male and a female and explained how to identify them.

The Calliope Hummingbird is North America's smallest bird (3.25 inches). I'm guessing that the migrating males have mostly passed through already on their way from the mountains of the Northwest. From photographs, they are very pretty little birds; Geo says the iridescent "carmine streaks on male's throat form a V-shaped gorget". This afternoon, I spent a lot of time picking out the female Calliopes and finally got to be reasonably confident I was getting them right. (It helps that they are so small and that their wing tips extend beyond the ends of their very short tails.)

I've seen a photograph of a male Calliope displaying by flexing those carmine streaks of its gorget into a concave shield that catches the light quite dramatically. As I watched one female feeding, a larger hummingbird landed at the slot next to her and she turned toward it threateningly. It appeared to me that she was flexing strips of the white feathers of her throat in the same way the males flex their carmine gorget feathers. I had her in profile at the time and could see something extend from below her neck and then fall back. I saw this happen twice. "She" could have been an immature male, of course, but there were no red feathers on the throat at all.

I was unable to convince myself I had identified a Broad-tailed on my own. (They look much like the Ruby-throated Hummingbirds we have in the East, but their gorgets iridesce a rose red, rather than a scarlet red.)

In the middle of the afternoon, a birding tour group came into the viewing area. I immediately won all their hearts by saying quietly, "White-eared on Feeder Two". Fifteen minutes later, they'd gotten all nine of the species I've seen here. It was good they were so fast, because then the downpour started.

I stood under the eaves chatting with them for half an hour or so and then scampered through the rain back to the B&B, where Lee and I sat on the porch talking with other guests and eating pie. (I had two pieces of the incredibly good raspberry-rhubarb pie. Lee had one of those and one of the shoo-fly pie. The cook told us that she hadn't had a recipe for shoo-fly pie, so after a guest requested it this morning, she got on the Web and found a recipe.)

We went into town later for a dinner of chicken fajitas and were in bed early.

Ramsey Canyon, Arizona, Wednesday, August 23, 2000

We were too lazy for a before-breakfast hike this morning. Breakfast was again astounding: a ham fritata with a lovely avocado salza. At breakfast, our companions Dr. and Mrs. Wong reported having just seen a bear on the trail. The group at the table was very congenial, so we lingered over breakfast.

I spent the morning in front of the Preserve's hummingbird feeders, I had no new birds, but did get some better looks at the old ones. I also spent some time below the Berylline's nest and got to see her flying around near her nest, apparently gleaning insects from the leaves. In another tree even closer to the headquarters building, there is a Robin's nest; the three young have still-droopy heads that they leave hanging over the edge of the nest most of the time.

The Wong's sat in the viewing area for a while. Chatting, we discovered that he graduated from the same high school I did, a year after I did. And we had the same favorite teacher (Mr. Smith, who taught Ancient History).

Another pleasant woman sat there with me for a couple of hours and was very happy to get five life birds, including the Berylline. I was happy finally to see a male Berylline, which is very similar to the female except that the lower belly is brown rather than pearl grey. Mark thinks this one may be the immature from the first nest, as it doesn't iridesce much.

I didn't want to leave the feeders long enough to go to town for lunch, so I just ate the last piece of the raspberry-rhubarb pie. (I was lucky to get it; usually the leftover pie is given to the volunteers who work at the Preserve, one of whom told me that the Nature Conservancy really knows how to treat its volunteers.)

Lee went down to the valley to explore one of the riparian areas early in the afternoon, but soon came back very muddy. The storm last evening had flooded the trails so badly that he couldn't get under the Hereford Road bridge crossing of the San Pedro River. He also reported that the Sierra Vista sewage treatment plant is closed to visitors because of some construction, which is a pity, as it is a very good birding spot. The good news is that the new sewage plant will return treated waste water to recharge the aquifer, which is being drained at a horrifying rate (with the result that there is less water in the San Pedro, to the detriment of millions of migrating birds).

I watched hummingbirds in the Preserve for most of the afternoon. At one point, I noticed that a hummingbird had gotten trapped by the mesh fence that has been put up to keep the deer away from the newly-planted native hummingbird flowers. (It was caught below a fold in the mesh and naturally didn't think to fly downward to escape.) I ran to fetch Mark, and was relieved to see that another watcher had freed the bird by the time we got back.

Later in the afternoon, I went down to join Lee and the others on the porch of the B&B (and to have a small piece of the chess pie and a bit of cherry cobbler). While we sat there talking, one of the men was stung by a bee (the hummingbird feeders attract masses of them, of course). Another man told us that he'd seen the bear cub swimming in the frog pond earlier in the day.

As I still had neither Lucifer nor male Calliope, we decided to go up to Beatty's again late in the afternoon. We sat in the public viewing area with an interesting woman from California, who was particularly looking for a White-eared. A note on a bulletin board said that the Lucifer ("bill downcurved; male has green crown, purple throat, long tail") had been being seen on Feeder C, so I sat watching that feeder avidly. There were again many hundreds of hummingbirds, all moving very fast. We had mostly the same birds as at Ramsey Canyon, but we didn't find the White-eared our companion was looking for, nor were there any Beryllines.

I got a fast flash of a bright violet gorget, which could only have been a male Lucifer, but I had no other impression of the bird at all and it hardly counted if I hadn't seen the downcurved bill (Lucifer is the only North American hummingbird with a curved bill) and the long pointy tail. (I feel certain that it wasn't a Costa's, which also has a purple gorget; this was a lighter color without the very long "side-burns".)

After a while, Mr. Beatty joined us and chatted about the birds. He is convinced that the female Berylline nesting so prominently at Ramsey Canyon is the one banded on his property this Spring, and he seems to feel that she has been unfaithful. (It may well be the same bird; they are extremely rare here and banded ones are even rarer.)

We asked him about Calliopes and Lucifers. He assured us that a male Calliope is being seen at his "restricted access area"; he said that we were welcome to go there and told us the path to follow.

The restricted access area is intended mainly for photographers. It is on the side of a hill at the top of an orchard and is very pretty. It also turns out to have perfect light for hummingbird viewing. The birds there were very iridescent.

Three people were already there, so I asked about Calliopes and was told that a woman had waited two hours there yesterday for a Calliope but that it hadn't shown up until five minutes after she left.

There was one professional photographer there, with his camera aimed at a small branch he'd set up as a perch near one of the feeders. Even with his camera pre-focused, however, he was finding it difficult to catch the hummers. They move incredibly quickly. Lee asked him about his lens (and later told me, with some satisfaction, that it was the same as his new one, a Canon 100-400 IS).

The seating consisted mainly of concrete blocks, but I barely noticed the discomfort, because the birds were so wonderful. I had two really good views of male Broad-tailed Hummingbirds; now that I've seen the remarkable red of their gorgets, I won't have trouble with them again. There were several Magnificent Hummingbirds, and I was finally getting their (absolutely glorious) green and purple iridescence, too.

After a while, we were joined by the woman who had been sitting with us below. The first thing she said was that the Lucifer had shown up right after we left. Twice.

Despite that, I found her a White-eared. It gave us all a lovely view, iridescing even through the transparent feeder.

Then a very large (for a hummingbird) green and brown bird flew up to me and almost landed on my knee. As it flew up, I said, "That's a Berylline!" But then I noticed how large it was and that its head and gorget iridesced in the same pattern as a Magnificent's does, but both bright green. (I'd not seen the male Berylline at Ramsey doing that; the Beryllines seem just to sparkle all over.) Then I realized that this must be the famous Berylline x Magnificent hybrid that we've been reading about on the lists this summer:

We are banding hummingbirds at Beatty's this summer. One bird caught is a probable hybrid Berylline x Magnificent Hummingbird. Following are the measurements and comparative data:

The bird appeared slightly smaller than a Magnificent. It had an emerald green chin and crown. The upper mandible was all black. The lower mandible was black but had a grayish-white area at the bottom of the basal half of the mandible. There was no red on the bill. There was a white spot behind the eye. The rectrices were all coppery-bronze with no sign of blue. The tail was not notched. There was no blue cast to any of the dorsal pigmentation. The base of the secondaries was rusty.

Berylline features include the smaller size (see below), emerald crown, rusty secondary bases, and coppery-bronze tail. Magnificent features include the larger size, lack of red on the bill, larger white spot behind the eye, and lack of any blue in the feathers.

Measurements: Wing cord 63; compare to BEHU 49.4 - 57.7 and MAHU 69.8 - 77.5. Tail 37; compare to BEHU 27.5 - 32.6 and MAHU 43.5 - 51.1. Exposed culmen >23.1; compare to BEHU 18.4 - 21.1 and to MAHU 23.1 - 28.9.

The hybrid is intermediate in all measurements. Pyle does not mention this hybrid but we would be interested to know if others have observed this combination before, or if you have other opinions.

This bird was probably the same one as observed at the Beatty's last year.

George West

A few weeks ago, West banded another hybrid male, believed to be Anna's x Calliope; I would dearly love to see that one, but I am thrilled to have seen this one.

We stayed until the light began to fail and then made our way down to the public viewing area, where we sat for a few more minutes in hope of seeing the Lucifer. We got our first view of a Sphinx Moth, a very large white moth that drinks from hummingbird feeders and is often mistaken for a hummingbird.

The mosquitoes finally drove us away without our seeing a Lucifer. We drove toward town and stopped at the same restaurant as last evening. As we pulled into the parking space, we noticed that a small tree right in front of us was filled with kingbirds. I opened the field guide to the kingbird section and had Lee read me the fieldmarks while I looked at the birds. We have now positively identified our first kingbirds, Tropical, no question about it! One of the birds was a still-begging young; we watched its parent stuffing berries down it in a futile attempt to shut it up. I found it very satisfying to note that its belly was a paler yellow than those of the adults, just as it's supposed to be.

While we were dining, a waiter was (very elaborately) preparing Bananas Foster at a nearby table. Although it looked good, we decided we didn't want to be bothered with the ceremony, so we ordered dishes of ice cream instead.

Tucson, Arizona, Thursday, August 24, 2000

While Lee was packing at Ramsey Canyon this morning, I gave myself 20 minutes alone with the nesting Berylline Hummingbird. She left her nest every few minutes to stoke up after the cool night, so I got lots of good looks at her. Once when she returned to the nest, she carefully ran her chin all around the top of the nest as if to smooth the edge. While I was watching her, the Wong's walked by; Dr. Wong stopped to mention that he'd remembered our favorite teacher's full name, Price B. Smith.

Breakfast was waffles (very light and delicious) with Bananas Foster(!) to top them, so we got to savor the taste without the fuss. There was also a very good hazelnut flan; I should have asked for the recipe.

We really enjoyed talking with the others during breakfast, but we had to get going, as we had a long drive planned. (One of the other couples was leaving today, but they said they thought they'd wait around until the pies came out of the oven.)

Lee bought the new edition of Finding Birds in Southeast Arizona at the Ramsey Canyon bookstore a couple of days ago. Last night, looking through it, he found a new entry for a back yard in Portal that is "the most reliable place for Lucifer Hummingbirds". We hadn't planned to go to Portal, which is in the opposite direction from where we were headed but this seemed too good an opportunity to miss.

Portal is in the very southeast corner of Arizona; indeed, one has to go through New Mexico for a few feet to reach Portal. We drove there in about two hours through high desert with mountains all around the horizon. The views were very handsome, and we had two Roadrunners running across the road along the way. (One, in fact, actually broke into flight.)

The instructions for finding the Lucifer yard in Portal said to park at the Post Office and walk from there. We couldn't find the Post Office, so we parked at the store and walked, per instructions, down Stone House Road to its end (finally spotting the PO on the way). In front of the last house was a sign "To the feeders ==>", so we went there and were disappointed to discover that the feeders were all empty. A few hummingbirds were poking around trying to find a drop to eat, but they soon gave up. We had a good view of a Cactus Wren (a jinx bird until we saw one in California last Spring). As we left, I noticed a cardboard sign face-down on the ground, apparently fallen from the gate. When I picked it up and read "Yard hours 12-7", we felt guilty about having intruded out of hours, but that gave us hope that the feeders might be filled during yard hours, so we decided to come back after lunch.

We wouldn't have left Portal without going to the Spofford's yard anyhow. The Spofford's opened their wonderful yard to birders long ago. Dr. Walter Spofford is dead now, but his wife Dr. Sally Hoyt Spofford continues to welcome birders. Although we've never met her, I have warm feelings for her as the result of having read The Peacocks of Baboquivari by her friend Erma Fisk, who at the age of 73 moved into a small cabin in an isolated canyon in southwestern Arizona to spend five months documenting its birds for the Nature Conservancy.

We were soon sitting on the Spofford's benches enjoying Blue-throated, Rufous, and Black-chinned hummingbirds, as well as Black-headed Grosbeak, Acorn Woodpecker, Spotted Towhee, and White-winged Doves. (I will always associate the wonderful blue of the Blue-throated with the Spofford's; it was in their yard that we first saw the bird four years ago. Today the Blue-throated was using the same feeder as then.)

A questing type birder from California soon joined us. He introduced himself and (when he heard we were from New Jersey) told us that he had been there for the World Series of Birding and had been amazed by how many birds New Jersey has. When Lee said, "Yes, it's not all the New Jersey Turnpike," he replied, "I hate the New Jersey Turnpike; our team lost an hour stuck on it!"

He mentioned that he was coming back from Texas and was hoping for Black-capped Gnatcatcher ("West Mexican species, very rare, mostly spring and summer in southeastern Arizona; separated from Blue-gray and Black-tailed Gnatcatchers by more graduated white outer tail feathers, longer bill"). Rather than admit that we wouldn't know a Black-capped Gnatcatcher if it bit us, I explained that we'd been doing mainly hummingbirds.

He asked if we'd seen anything good, so we mentioned the nesting Berylline. I could see that that had a powerful effect on him. He began to squirm. Berylline would be a life bird for him, I imagined, or at least a year bird. He asked for more details on how to find it and how long it had taken us to drive from Ramsey to Portal. After a few more minutes of politely looking around the Spofford's yard, he mumbled something about not wasting any more time on the gnatcatcher and all but ran for his car.

We stayed a while longer and made a point of signing the register before we left, as Mrs. Spofford is gathering statistics to show the Forest Service that "non-consumptive" use of the area is greater than they think.

We returned to the Portal store (which is also the restaurant and the motel) for a quick lunch. Their cold lemonade was very welcome. Then we were off to the Lucifer site again (this time parking in front of the Post Office). Alas, the feeders were still empty, so we trudged back to the PO in the heat.

Just as we were about to pull out of our parking space, I noticed a lady calling to us from the porch of the Post Office. When I rolled down the car window, she asked, "Would you like to see some baby hummers?" We were out of the car in a flash. Even with her help, it was hard to spot the beautifully camouflaged nest, on the lowest branch of a sycamore just a few feet above the car. It was so close that we could easily make out the cobwebs and lichens covering it, and I had to stand back to focus my binoculars on it. Two well-grown young Violet-crowned Hummingbirds were in the nest, which had become too small for them. While we watched, one got up on the edge to exercise his wings (to the annoyance of the other). It was clear they'd be fledged very soon. (Their bills were still much shorter than an adult's, but already red.)

After gazing raptly for ten minutes, we thanked the lady profusely and then went back to the Portal store to make a note in the birders' log there to help others find the nest. We noticed that the previous entry had been made earlier in the day by the Californian we'd met at the Spofford's. He'd seen Violet-crowned Hummingbird and Lark Bunting outside the store. We were sorry he hadn't known about the nest.

From Portal, we drove on a gravel Forest Service road to Paradise, a very small mountain town. We were looking for a B&B called the George Walker House, which is becoming known for its birds. By the time we found it, the skies had opened, but a pleasant young woman dashed out to our car in the rain (their first since June, she told us) and invited us to come sit on the porch and look at the birds.

Her hummingbird feeders were very active, with many full adult male Rufous and Magnificent. We got much better looks at both than we've had anywhere else. She said the male Calliopes had all passed through early in August. Her thistle feeder was quite nearby and had both Lesser Goldfinch and Pine Siskin. She apologized for the Montezuma Quail, which she said are usually visible in the yard but were obviously sheltering from the heavy rain. I think the little black-and-white birds flitting in a nearby tree were Lark Buntings.

After a while, we thanked her and drove on to Rustler Park (in the Coronado National Forest). The rain was almost over when we got there but the woods were strangely silent, though they'd been alive with birds when Lee drove up there four years ago.

So, we headed down to the plains (still above 4000 feet), passing through areas where the rain had preceded us and the air was filled with the aroma of freshly dampened earth. We had magnificent views of the stark mesquite-covered mountains all around, with the sky full of storms as we headed west.

Nearing Tucson, we stopped for a quick dinner of hot dogs and root beer. Before reaching the city, we left the Interstate and headed over Gates Pass, going through stunning Saguaro "forest" that is quickly being turned into subdivisions. Giant Saguaro grew thickly clear to the summits of the pass and the surrounding mountains; one could see them silhouetted along the ridge lines.

As we reached the end of the trip, we were treated to a magnificent sunset. The sky was filled with dark blue-gray clouds above the darker blue-gray mountains, but the setting sun peeked below the cloud layer and colored the sky burgundy and gold (with, off to the left, the bottom of just one of the dark gray clouds glowing watermelon pink).

With some difficulty, we found the Casa Tierra B&B, a lovely adobe-brick building set among Saguaro and Cholla and Ocotillo (close to the Desert Museum). Our room has adobe-brick walls and is decorated with fabrics in blue, turquoise, and violet. A miniature rose bush in full bloom sits on the dresser. One door opens onto an internal courtyard with lovely desert plantings, a fountain, and hummingbird feeders. The other door opens to a pretty patio beyond which there is nothing but Saguaro desert and mountains (except for the hot tub and the telescope). It's a pity we'll be leaving very early in the morning!

Eugene, Oregon, Friday, August 25, 2000

We woke up early this morning in our pretty room in the desert outside Tucson. We were served a lovely breakfast on our patio while watching a Gila Woodpecker hunting for his breakfast on a big Saguaro cactus a few feet away. The Gila had also figured out an acrobatic way to eat from the bird feeder intended for much smaller birds. Other birds on the grounds near the patio included White-winged and Mourning Doves, House Finches, and a Curve-billed Thrasher. A Lantana bush full of both blooms and berries had attracted a Verdin, whose mustard-yellow head was well hidden among the bright blossoms.

We were at the Sonoran Desert Museum when it opened at 7:30. The day was already quite hot. Just beyond the entrance, a docent stood with a Western Screech Owl sitting on his hand (which was protected by a heavy leather glove). The bird was very small (about 8.5 inches in length) but all owl, gray with bright yellow eyes. Its eyes were alert and intelligent, and it constantly scanned all around the area. We stood talking to the docent and looking at the beautiful bird for several minutes. (The Whiskered Screech Owl we looked for in Patagonia would have been even smaller than this one.)

Walking on through the lovely grounds (rich in desert plants), we stopped to watch a Cactus Wren feed its squawking young.

We spent the next couple of hours in the hummingbird aviary. Shortly after we arrived, a docent showed us the current list of the birds on display (they rotate birds out to give them a rest, but in general the birds are happy enough in the aviary that several young are fledged from nests there every year). His list included a pair of Calliopes and a female Lucifer. I had already spotted the Lucifer; the curve of the bill isn't as striking as in many of the hummingbirds we've seen in Central and South America, but one would definitely notice it. I guess we're going to have to make another trip here someday for me to find a male Lucifer.

Male hummingbirds are so territorial that it is difficult to keep more than a few of them in an enclosed space. (The docent said the keepers give him territory maps, but he didn't have the current one.) We quickly found the area that was being defended against all comers by a beautiful male Rufous. He was letting a female Rufous come to some of his flowers and feeders, but nobody else was allowed anywhere near.

The next territory over belonged to a fierce little male Costa's ("male has deep violet crown and gorget extending far down sides of neck.... fairly common in desert washes, dry chaparral"). Costa's is definitely a desert bird. We finally saw our first Costa's when we spent a few days in the Mojave Desert last Spring. It is the most common hummingbird on the grounds of the Desert Museum; in fact, we saw one trying to find a way to get into the aviary, which is full of trumpet vines and other flowers loved by hummingbirds.

There were several Broad-billed Hummingbirds in the aviary, and we got very close looks at their wonderful cobalt and emerald iridescence. I stood near enough to one to hear it making a chittering sound ("chattering je-dit call is similar to Ruby-crowned Kinglet").

I finally found the male Broad-tailed (with his red gorget shining very brightly) hidden in a bush preening himself.

I found the female Calliope with no trouble; she stayed near one of the nests. I could not, however, find the male, even in two hours of searching through the vegetation in the aviary. If he was really there, he must be very shy.

I was reluctant to give up the search--I would really like to see a male Calliope, even in captivity--but we were both about to melt, so finally we left to go to the museum coffee shop to drink very large lemonades. We bought a few small gifts at the gift shop and then headed out into the heat to drive through the desert to Phoenix, seeing very few birds along the way except some Gambel's Quail. We made sure to stop at a Dairy Queen, an Arizona tradition for us. The temperature had reached 101 F by the time we got to the Phoenix Airport late in the morning.

The rest of the day was devoted to flying from Phoenix to Portland, Oregon, and then driving from Portland to Eugene. The trip was made a delight for me by a wonderful new book, Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader, by Anne Fadiman, the daughter of Clifton Fadiman. I enjoyed all eighteen of her essays, but I was particularly touched by the one in which she describes the sudden onset of her father's blindness:

The theme of the sonnet's consolatory power has special meaning to me because of what happened to my father two years ago, when he was eighty-eight. Over the period of a week, he had, for mysterious reasons, gone from being able to read The Encyclopaedia Britannica to being unable to read the "E" at the top of an eye chart. I took him from the west coast of Florida, where he and my mother live, to the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute in Miami. He was informed there that he had acute retinal necrosis, improbably caused by a chickenpox virus that had been latent for more than eighty years. He was unlikely to regain much of his sight.

I spent the night on a cot in my father's hospital room. We talked about his life's pleasures and disappointments. At some point after midnight, he said, "I don't wish to be melodramatic, but you should know that if I can't read or write, I'm finished." Never retired, he was accustomed to working a sixty-hour week as an editor and critic.

"Well, Milton wrote Paradise Lost after he went blind," I said, grasping at straws.

"So he did," said my father. "He also wrote that famous sonnet."

"On His Blindness," I replied. I had read it at thirteen, the year I wrote my own first sonnet.

"'When I consider how my light is spent'--then how does it go?" he said, "Isn't there a preposition next?"

In the darkness, we managed between us to reconstruct six and a half of the fourteen lines. "When you get back to New York," he said, "the first thing I want you to do is to look up that sonnet and read it to me over the telephone."

There was no way to know at the time that over the next year my father would learn to use recorded books, lecture without notes, and gain access to unguessed-at inner resources... All these things lay in the future, but that night in Miami, Milton's sonnet provided the first glimmer of the persistent intellectual curiosity that was to prove his saving grace.

And she made me laugh out loud when she described the process she and her husband went through to merge their libraries (several years after they were married):
We ran into trouble, however, when I announced my plan to arrange English literature chronologically but American literature alphabetically by author. My defense went like this: Our English collection spanned six centuries, and to shelve it chronologically would allow us to watch the broad sweep of literature unfold before our very eyes. The Victorians belonged together; separating them would be like breaking up a family. Besides, Susan Sontag arranged her books chronologically. She had told The New York Times that it would set her teeth on edge to put Pynchon next to Plato. So there. Our American collection, on the other hand, was mostly twentieth-century, much of it so recent that chronological distinctions would require Talmudic hairsplitting. Ergo, alphabetization. George eventually caved in, but more for the sake of matrimonial harmony than because of a true conversion. A particularly bad moment occurred while he was in the process of transferring my Shakespeare collection from one bookcase to another and I called out, "Be sure to keep the plays in chronological order!"

"You mean we're going to be chronological within each author?" he gasped. "But no one even knows for sure when Shakespeare wrote his plays!"

"Well," I blustered, "we know he wrote Romeo and Juliet before The Tempest. I'd like to see that reflected on our shelves."

George says that was one of the few times he has seriously contemplated divorce.

We phoned our nephew Jim from the Portland Airport to say that we would not phone when we got to Eugene, because it would be so late. We stopped in Salem for a late pizza dinner and were definitely ready for bed by the time we'd checked into our hotel in Eugene.

Princeton, New Jersey, Monday, August 28, 2000

We spent all day Saturday at the Oregon home of our nephew Jim and his dear wife Bonnie and their little Kamille (seventeen months old). We'd not seen them since last September, so we had a lot of catching up to do, especially with Kamille, of course, who is incredibly full of life and an absolute joy. Being with them was such a pleasure that I hardly stopped smiling all day (except in sympathy with poor Kamille for the outrage of being required to take a much-needed nap). After a happy day of good companionship (and good food), we finally left, reluctantly, to return to our hotel at bed time.

Before we left our hotel in Eugene Sunday morning, Lee called me to the window to see a jay on the walk down below along the Willamette River. My first reaction was "Mexican Jay", but then I remembered we'd changed habitats dramatically and realized that it was a Western Scrub Jay. Just then, he pointed out a mammal swimming along the near edge of the river. We neither got a really good look, but we think it was a river otter.

I looked some more while Lee showered, and I soon found a Great Blue Heron standing on a high branch of a nearby willow tree looking out over the river. After I'd identified the very distant ducks as Mallards, I noticed a whitish bird perched on a dock near them. Though it was barely more than a speck, even through my binoculars, when it turned its head the profile made it clear that I'd finally found the kingfisher for this trip, a male Belted.

I dashed out to the river walk, leaving Lee to do the packing, and headed for the dock where I'd seen the kingfisher and stood watching for him to appear again. I was so focused on the dock that I didn't notice that the bird had landed on a wire above me until he gave a soft chuckling call. I spent ten (delighted) minutes watching him closely as he hunted in the river and flew up to perch nearby. This was the best look I've ever had at a Belted Kingfisher, so I was very pleased.

By the time Lee joined me, the kingfisher had flown up the river, so we walked along trying to find him. What we found was the Scrub Jay perched at the very tip of a tall tree holding an acorn in its beak and calling loudly. I'd never realized that jays can call without moving their beaks, but this one definitely could.

We were soon back in the car and driving north to Portland. When we got to the Portland Airport, we phoned to say goodbye to Jim and Bonnie, and I could hear Kamille saying "UncLee" in the background. Jim told me she was blowing kisses.

The highlight of our long trip home was a leisurely visit to the airport branch of Portland's famous Powell's Books. Since we hadn't much further to carry things, I over-indulged. I spent the flight home reading (and really enjoying) David Guterson's East of the Mountains. Here the young hero is leaving his family's apple farm to go off to war:

Ben left the apple country when the picking was done, the bins and ladders put away, the canvas bags hung up. All the apples had been taken from the trees, the orchards brought to silence now, the transient pickers moving on, disappearing down the river road, leaving the country hushed and lonely: not even an evening breeze.

His father took him to the bus station in Wenatchee. He gave Ben six five-dollar bills and a new pocketknife. They milled about in silence for a while, then sat waiting with their hats in their laps, outside, in the loading bay.

"I'm going to worry," said his father. "Just like I do with Aidan."

"It won't do him or me any good."

"Just the same, I'm going to worry."

"There's too much to do to waste time on that."

"Picking's over," said his father. "I've got time on my hands."

They paused to watch the bus pull in. It came to a stop in front of them. "You take care," said Ben.

"Never mind," said his father.

"You keep yourself away from that hooch."

"I'm not on it."

"Yes, you are."

His father knocked a boot heel against the ground. "No, I'm not," he said.

In the open doorway of the bus they embraced, and Ben smelled his father's hair. "Thanks," he said, "For everything."

His father hugged him harder in reply. "Jesus," he said, "don't go."

We arrived in Princeton in the wee hours this morning, fed our resentful cats, watered the wilted azalea by the front step, put the marionberry preserves Lee'd picked up at the Portland Airport into the fridge, and dropped into bed.

Love to you all,

Melinda Varian / Office of Information Technology / Princeton University / Melinda@Princeton.EDU
28 Aug 2000