Bird Watching at Tanque Verde Ranch


The bird watching activity began as they usually do at Tanque Verde Ranch. After focusing their borrowed binoculars, guests watched the battles of the Anna’s and Broad-billed Hummingbirds. Each iridescent-feathered warrior tried to claim the feeders in front of the Nature Center for himself alone. Chasing each other to and fro, they flashed the brilliant reds and blues of their gorgets for all to see. To the left, the Lesser Goldfinches and Pine Siskins grudgingly took turns at the finch feeder. After a brief lesson on the use of the spotting scope that would provide closer views of some of the birds, the neophyte and experienced birders set off for other parts of the ranch to find what the desert had to offer. The first stop was the bird ramada, a shaded sitting area with seed feeders scattered about it. After the ranch’s resident birder topped off the feeders, the parade began. First in were the Gambel’s Quail. Arriving in ones and twos, clucking constantly among themselves, they gathered in a tight covey, their head plumes bobbing as they pecked at the seed. Emboldened by the presence of the quail, others came out of the brush to feed before us. Rufous-winged Sparrows, Brewers Sparrows and Black-throated Sparrows worked the edges of the path. Curve-billed Thrashers moved to the tube feeders. Northern Cardinals, brilliant red in the sunlight, moved in to the tray feeders, joined shortly by the Pyrrhuloxia. Mourning Doves joined the quail on the path, with one White-winged Dove dropping into the group. A pair of Inca Doves fought over which of them had rights to the food while the birds around them ignored them and continued to devour the seed. A Cactus Wren called from the cholla cactus at the side of the path. A Gila Woodpecker, taking a break from building its new home in the nearby saguaro, swept down to one of the platform feeders to grab a quick meal. Three different species of towhee came to visit. Two Abert’s Towhees appeared briefly, three Canyon Towhees moved about under the feeders, picking up the dropped seed and a lone Green-tailed Towhee came close to the back step of the ramada. For no apparent reason since none of us had moved, the birds exploded into the air and disappeared into the brush. Seconds later, a Cooper’s Hawk swept up the path and through the ramada, just above the heads of the startled bird watchers. Taking advantage of the sudden vacancy of the feeders, talking excitedly about the close encounter of the bird kind, we moved on to the pond beside the cottonwoods. American Coots and Ring-necked Ducks swam about. A Great Egret lifted off from the far bank. A female Belted Kingfisher flew to the far end of the pond, scolding us for our intrusion upon her world. A pair of Vermilion Flycatchers, hawking for their meals, perched in the top of a young cottonwood on one of the islands. Phainopepla perched in nearby mesquites, guarding their supplies of mistletoe berries. Moving into the stand of tall cottonwoods, we found the “resident” Great Horned Owl, watching us wide-eyed as we returned the favor. A Verdin made a brief appearance along the path, several of his old nests noticeable in the mesquites. Searching through the leaf litter under the cottonwoods, a pair of Greater Roadrunners came close as they looked for the variety of insects and lizards that make up the majority of their diets. A lone Black-tailed Gnatcatcher jumped from branch to branch in the bushes, gleaning his meal. Two hours had flown by. We were back at the nature center, handing back our binoculars as the hummingbirds continued their aerial combat around us. After taking a couple of pictures of them from impossibly close range, we moved on to our next activities, promising ourselves that we would spend some quiet time on the benches at the bird ramada or on the gliders in front of the nature center, relaxing and enjoying the birds the desert has to offer.