Birding at Tohono Chul Park
By KL Lance, Docent at Tohono Chul Park
More than twenty years ago, Jon and Shani Friedman introduced The Wild Bird Store to the community by offering beginning bird tours, which I--new to both Tucson and birding--eagerly joined. I was quickly hooked. Today, semi-retired, I'm giving bird walks myself, as a docent at Tohono Chul Park, the beautiful 49-acre natural paradise just off the corner of Ina and Oracle.
Tohono Chul is a fabulous place to bird, both for experienced birders and for neophytes. We have desert trails, cultivated, shaded gardens, and a small riparian area that is a magnet for migrating species. We offer three guided bird tours a week, but the Park is also a terrific place for birding on your own.
If you're shy about joining a bird walk, don't be. One of our frequent visitors, who used our trails for her morning constitutional, began walking along with the Monday morning bird tour last January. Gradually, she became more interested in what she was seeing. She bought binoculars and began to check out the birds in her neighborhood. Just before she left on vacation, I overheard her telling another visitor how to tell the difference between white-winged and mourning doves.
Which brings me to a second benefit of birding at Tohono Chul. Whether you're a beginner or a seasoned birder, when you come across something you don't know, there are likely to be other visitors or docents nearby who can help you identify your mystery bird. A very experienced birder who leads tours with the Audubon Society comes to the Park from time to time to see what the latest weather front may have brought in. I have found his expertise invaluable, and have now seen several birds that I might not have noticed before, or wouldn't have been able to name. I look forward to his visits because I know I'm likely to learn something new each time.
The docents who lead bird tours are a varied lot, with different interests and different preferred routes. People who bird with me quickly learn that I am an aficionado of nests. I love to show visitors the different sized- and shaped- nests our birds build throughout the Park. Because the venue is so compact, it's easy to view varied nests by several species in a short amount of time.
My latest favorite nest, on the Saguaro Discovery Trail, was constructed and is occupied by black-tailed gnat-catchers.
Another advantage of the relatively small area is that the birds' behavior is readily observable. In recent months I've seen two behaviors I had previously only read about: I watched a cactus wren, while constructing a nest in a cholla, carefully and one-by-one break off the nearby cactus spines with his beak. On another occasion I learned the answer to why adult birds aren't shredded by their nest-building activities in cholla. A curved-billed thrasher, evidently looking for a likely spot for a nest, landed on a cholla joint, then very carefully folded his wings BEHIND HIS BACK before venturing into the prickly thickets.
Last week I watched a pair of white-winged doves build a nest on top of a pillar at the Overlook, where most of our tours, including the birding tours, start. While Mama sat among the pile of twigs, Papa added to it by repeatedly flying into the nearby gardens and seeking perfect sticks, then bringing them one by one to Mama. This picture shows him at the end of a particularly long and seemingly arduous search, ready to take his offering to his beloved.
Tohono Chul Park, 7366 N. Paseo del Norte, just west of Ina and Oracle.
Hours, 7:00 AM to 3:00 PM through August 31st, then 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM after September 1st. Admission of $7.00 for adults ($5.00 for seniors) includes free tours, including birding tours, offered every Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday morning at 7:30 AM (through August 31st; then 8:30 AM starting September 1st). For more information: http://www.tohonochulpark.org