Our Arizona RV adventure began with a flight from Florida to Phoenix, where we met up with our daughter, her husband and their two daughters who had arrived from Chicago earlier in the day. We stayed overnight in a hotel near the airport. The temperature reached over 115 degrees (F) but our granddaughters had lots of fun on the shady side of the hotel pool. The next morning we picked up our 31 foot RV and visited locally with the families of Mary Lou's brother in Chandler and our older daughter in Glendale before spending the night at Desert Shadows RV Resort in Phoenix.The next morning we drove 130 miles south to Tucson, where our first stop was the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.
Tucson was unusually hot, over 110 degrees (F), a bit too much for Mary Lou and our younger granddaughter. who soon succumbed to the temptation and returned to the air-conditioned reptile and aquatic exhibit building. I walked the trails with Graci, our older granddaughter, and her parents. Many species of cactus were in bloom, including the omnipresent Saguaro and Cholla.
We were greeted by a Cactus Wren, one of many that were present along the trails. Although I have seen this species previously while living in the southwest before I took up nature photography, this was the first of several "life birds" to be newly photographed during our trip.
Gila Woodpeckers were also abundant. They excavate their homes in the giant Saguaro Cactus. Interestingly, the inner core of this cactus is soft and full of water, not suitable for immediate use. The woodpeckers therefore wait several months for the pulp to dry and form a solid shell around the entire nest cavity. Somewhat like a thermos bottle, the extra layer provides insulation against the brutal heat.
Abandoned woodpecker holes provide homes for other creatures. European Starlings often appropriate a cavity even before the woodpecker occupies it. We found House Sparrows in a number of them.
This Saguaro, like many others, was topped by ripe fruit.
White-winged Doves, now common in our Florida neighborhood and expanding their range over much of the US and even into Canada, were primarily desert birds. Here in the Sonora Desert, they long ago developed a dependency upon the Saguaro Cactus, drinking the nectar of its flowers and eating its seeds. This dove even regulates its breeding to coincide with the availability of this food source. They occupied many of the tops of the huge plants, sometimes seeming to be waiting for the fruits to ripen.
We also saw Curve-billed Thrashers foraging on the cactus, apparently seeking insects.
Graci was very energetic, replenishing her water bottle and often getting far ahead of us on the trails. Traveling light, I left my usual 420x fixed lens back in Florida, as my son-in-law had offered me use of his new 100-400x zoom with a f/4.0-5.6 lens with my Canon 60D camera. It was much heavier, and I soon wished I had brought my monopod to help steady it.
Once Graci excitedly ran back, telling us to come quickly, as she had seen an Elf Owl. As these tiny owls also use the woodpecker burrows, we expected to find one looking out at us from a hole in the cactus. As it turned out, the owl was a captive in one of the outside exhibits.
The exhibits were scattered about along the trails, and their occupants usually were in naturalistic surroundings. This reclusive Ocelot was particularly beautiful.
Like the Ocelot, a Bobcat spent most of its time resting on a shady rock ledge.
This brief visit turned out to provide our only opportunity to bird in Southeast Arizona. We put family first and had a delightful visit with another of Mary Lou's brothers and his wife that evening, before heading for Lazydays RV Campground. There followed a day of fun in Tombstone and the OK Corral. We anticipated that Sedona, our next stop, would provide us respite from the heat and more time to commune with nature.