OUTDOORS: Of bikes and birds

Steve Dike riding the Desperado Trail. (Photo/Bill Harris)

Spring is always a welcome event each year.

For one thing, it means the mountain bike trails are beginning to open up. For another, migrating birds begin arriving. This year Kathy and I decided to jump the gun with a trip to Tucson, Arizona; spent nearly two weeks sightseeing, birding, hiking or bike riding in the Sonoran Desert.

Daytime temperatures in Arizona ranged from the mid-60s to the low 80s. Those conditions are at least eight weeks away in western Colorado. We had one day of light rain, otherwise, dry, mostly sunny days. One thing we didn’t avoid was the wind – it seems wind is a spring thing anywhere you go.

The trails around Tucson are top-notch whether you like to hike, ride in the dirt, or on pavement. Tucson has over 75 miles of paved bike trails that rarely cross a street. We sampled three different sections that follow the major drainages that wind through Tucson. Really fun, well laid-out trails.

The Sweetwater Preserve, Tucson Mountain Park, and the Tortolita Preserve have wonderful dirt trails. My personal favorite is the Desperado Trail at Sweetwater. Steve Dike joined me for a Sweetwater ride. He’s a friend from Montrose who spends the winter in Tucson. With all the cactus in the desert paying attention to the landscape is an imperative.

The birding around Tucson is nothing short of fantastic. Prior to visiting I checked out the eBird web site to see where birders were observing birds. Literally dozens of postings almost daily from numerous locales were posted. I had done some birding around Tucson before, so I thought I knew the what and the where. I hadn’t even scratched the surface.

Steve is also a birder, so he was a big help pinpointing the real hotspots. Madera Canyon, south of Tucson and the Sweetwater Wetlands were two of the best birding hotspots. Steve joined me at Sweetwater early one morning. We tallied 37 species in just over two hours. During our trip, I added 55 new birds to my Arizona list, eight of them lifers. My favorites were a Rivoli’s hummingbird, a greater pewee, Arizona woodpeckers, and a Hutton’s vireo.

On our last day in Tucson, we met up with Jim Maggio and his wife, Carol Viner, friends from Montrose. They made a last-minute decision to spend a few days in Arizona. Jim lived in Tucson decades ago. We met up with his brother, Drex, who still lives there. Our quintet hiked in Sabino Canyon on a warm and sunny day, a fitting end to our trip.

By the time we returned home, the nearby local trails had dries out, the weather had warmed up, and the spring bird migration had commenced. I headed for Buzzard Gulch as soon as I could. Not surprisingly, the trailhead parking lot was full of vehicles.

The Buzzard Gulch trail system is extremely popular, and after a cold winter people were ready to get outside, unencumbered by three layers of winter gear. My bike knows those trails well, but it was good to get re-acquainted. On May 1, the RAT will open, and it is fun to get some tread time on one of the best trail systems in Colorado.

The spring bird migration was just getting started on the Western Slope. Many of the duck species we do not see in the winter were arriving. Their arrival could not have come at a better time. I had seen most of the usual winter birds, so chasing after the early spring arrivals broke the winter doldrums. The Sandhill cranes start arriving in mid-March, also. Quite a spectacle seeing them take off en masse from Hart’s Basin each morning.

More recently I have spotted sagebrush sparrows, fox sparrows and shore birds like marbled godwits, greater yellowlegs, American avocets, willets, black-necked stilts and a solitary sandpiper, a rare visitor to the western slope.

I, like many birders, come up with ways to challenge my birding skills. This year I am going to see how many bird species I can find in Montrose County in 2021. My current record is 172 species. Right now, I at 107 species, so wish me luck. If you spot an unusual bird in Montrose County, let me know.

Happy trail biking and birding in 2021.

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