Did anyone out there read the book, or see the movie The Big Year? (book only, for me). It records the quest of three birders vying for the title Birder of the Year, awarded to the individual who sights the most different species of birds in a single calendar year. It’s a wonderful, informative, and entertaining book.
Why do I mention this? Because all three of the contenders in the book traveled to Patagonia to advance their bird counts. It is Bird Central here – I nearly felt guilty for taking up a spot in Patagonia Lake State Park – but – what the hell? Maybe John and I can learn something.
Our first day in camp, we decided to take the Senoita Creek birding trail which extends from the east end of the campground. Shortly after heading down the trail, we came across four birders, speaking in hushed tones and pointing. We take a silent position behind them, and strain to see what it is that they are so focused on. After one glance at us, one of the women whispers, “Gray Flycatcher”. Perhaps she noticed our Boy-Scout issue binoculars or our cellphone cameras, and took pity on us (we stand out in this crowd, who carry thousands of dollars of gear strapped on their bodies). We stare, trying madly to see motion. One of the gents in the group sees our clueless head-snapping motions. He whips out a green laser pointer, and immediately locates a small bird, flitting up/down, 40 yards away from us. Ahhhhh…..so that’s it! The woman asks “you saw the Ladderback?” We nod. (actually, we did, but didn’t know precisely what it was). We hang back for a few moments, then slink off down the trail. Figured we would prey on the next unsuspecting group for more help.
Interestingly, this area of the Park is shared with some kind of cow pasture. We come upon a few disinterested steer. Waving and stepping past their huge environmental droppings, we wander along the creek. It’s really muddy. Like a moron, I’ve worn only my sandals (heavy-duty type), instead of my hiking boots. I’m desperately trying not to get my socks wet, while John smartly marches ahead, splashing with abandon. We hear a few birds, but get the feeling that we’ve wandered into NoBirdLand. But then, I spot a few small active, birds moving quickly from tree to tree. I take the time to note definite physical characteristics, as I dearly want to be able to ID these guys. Pointy head (like a cardinal), black and white rings around the eye. White breast, gray back. Yippee! I find that it’s a Bridled Titmouse! (Thanks to whoever left their Sibley’s on the bench for me to peruse. Hope you got it back!)This is the way our entire day went – we positively identified the following birds that I know I’ve never seen before: Great Egret, American Coot, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Gray Flycatcher, Bridled Titmouse, and Pyrrhuloxia. For us, it was A Good Day – maybe the start of our own Big Year. I have no photos – my cellphone camera is the wrong tool for the job. Enjoyable just to see, though.
OK, so what else? The campground at Patagonia Lake SP is cramped, but exceedingly quiet. All of us Big Chillers are respectfully silent campers, apparently. There are lots of quiet nooks in this Park, outfitted with benches for resting or viewing.What was amazing to us was the number of small campers (like us) there. Casitas were everywhere! We spent more time chatting with other campers, and giving/getting tours of camping rigs than we have done before. It was totally enjoyable to share camping stories. John renewed his lust for an Airstream, and I reaffirmed my love for our Fireball (can you sense a conflict here??)
We cycled into the nearby town of Patagonia, about a 25 mile round trip, up and down. Delightful, once we actually got out on the main highway. The 4.5 mile climb from the campground to the highway was lung-busting. We wandered around, had a taco and a chile relleno with a shared beer at Mercedes, and enjoyed this laidback town. We’ve cycled through here many times, but this was our first leisurely stroll. I still don’t understand what this road sign means. Hobbits live beneath hill? What?Although we enjoyed our stay here, we’re eager to move on. The crowded campground is not really our preferred site, and it’s cold, which contributes to the quiet at night. There are few campfires (except for our own), nobody but us seems to be cooking outside.
Thursday morning, we head off to Roper Lake State Park in East Central AZ. Hot springs! Hiking! Looking forward to another new spot. (as I post this, we’re here at our new spot). We were greeted this morning with a Great Blue Heron hanging out right next to our picnic table. Big Year is ON!