Birds and Butterflies

Saturday, July 11, 2009
One of the misconceptions about the Sonoran Desert is that it resembles the Sahara. Say desert and people think of sand dunes and a vast wasteland with a meager smattering of oases surrounded by date palms. The Sonoran Desert is alive with plants and animals; sometimes too many plants and animals, but that's a topic for another day.
We seem to have more than our share of butterflies. Lately I've been watching some small white ones that appear to fly in pairs, circling around one another in a dance that's a delight to see. Many of our butterflies are an orange-brown with black and white spots. They are often mistaken for Monarchs, but monarch butterflies only pass through during their spring and fall migrations. The Tucson Botanical Garden has a wonderful butterfly garden and also hosts Butterfly Magic, an indoor exhibit of exotic butterflies from around the world.
The city of Tucson and surrounding areas lie on a major flyway, so we have not only our year-round residents like the Cactus Wren, but transients like juncos and warblers. Perhaps nothing says Southwest as much as the Gambrel's Quail, those large birds with the plume sticking out of their heads, that scurry across roadways in single file, mom and dad at front and back, chicks in the middle. And, speaking of scurrying across the road, there's always the roadrunner. Unlike the quail, these solitary birds are more elusive. Thanks to Warner Brothers, no one can see a roadrunner without smiling and thinking “beep, beep”. A bird that always surprises me in the Lesser Goldfinch. Yellow birds in nature are so rare, these always catch my eye when they land in the mesquite tree outside my office window to feast on the insects on its leaves.
My favorite birds have to be hummingbirds. Maybe it's because I grew up in an area where you didn't see hummingbirds on a regular basis. I think it's probably more that the way they hover over a flower to drink its nectar, their wings beating faster than seems possible, then suddenly dart off to the next one, lets you see their beautiful colors and the delicacy of how they're built. It doesn't take much to attract them here. Hang a feeder filled with sugar water and you'll be sure to have lots of visitors to your patio or yard.

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A Clash of Kings
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