I had been wanting to visit Arizona since even before my hit-and-miss adventures in Australia the previous year. The mountains in the southeast are home to birds that otherwise only occur in the tropics, such as Sulphur-bellied Flycatchers, Elegant Trogons, and many hummingbirds. Whenever anyone in Australia asked me where I was going next, my reply was always the same: Arizona!
Since I had been thoroughly unprepared in Australia (aside from studying the field guide), I wanted to be just a little bit more prepared this time. I found a book that described all the best birding locations in the area, and had species lists for each spot. It read that the best time of year to visit was during the last two weeks of May, when it was not too hot, and there was even the possibility of seeing owls.
The other part of the story, though, is that I met the man I would eventually marry on a blind lunch date the day before I left for Australia. When I got back, we began to see each other very regularly. He wasn't a birder, hadn't even heard of it in fact, but I asked if he wanted to join me on this particular trip. He said he would, that he was willing to try it. He had never been to Arizona either, and this would be an interesting experience at the very least.
We arrived in Tucson late on a Friday night. It was dark, but I could make out the saguaro cactus around the airport, and I was already getting very excited. I could barely sleep in anticipation, and I was up at the crack of dawn. At 5am, I could already hear a loud "cooing" from the balcony of our motel room. There was a Mourning Dove perched on the railing, and it seemed to beckon me outside!
I stepped outside, and soon was seeing Hooded Orioles and Great-tailed Grackles perched in trees around the courtyard. Of course, it was way too early to awaken Tom, so I got dressed very quietly, and tiptoed out into the parking lot. The scrub around our car yielded a Mockingbird, a Western Wood Pewee and a Black-chinned Hummingbird. Very nice, but nothing I hadn't seen before.
I had spent until 7:00 birding the motel, but I was ready to go to Madera Canyon. I returned to the room, finding Tom in the act of rolling over. I interpreted this to mean he was awake.
"Tom?", I whispered.
"How much longer are you going to sleep?"
He opened his eyes groggily. "I dunno. Another hour?" He rolled over and went back to sleep.
I took him at his word. I drove into town to get some water bottles, hats and other stuff we'd need to go trekking in the desert. Every minute we wasted was going to cost us, since it was going to get hotter fast!
I came back at 8:00 sharp. To my astonishment, Tom was still asleep!
I couldn't believe it. All those great birds out there, and he'd rather sleep!
It was nearly 9:00am when we finally got on the road. I was so excited to share my hobby with someone, and very pleased to point out some Greater Roadrunners walking along the shoulder. At our first stop, a dry scrubby habitat, I spotted some Cassin's Kingbirds, Mexican Jays, Phainopeplas, Acorn Woodpeckers, and Verdins. A little higher up in the pine forest, I found Bridled Titmice, White-throated Swifts and Painted Redstarts. I pointed them out to Tom, but noticed that his response was becoming a little more weary each time.
Eventually, we found ourselves at a house with both a hummingbird feeder and an orange on a stick, to feed the orioles. There were hummingbirds around, including a Black-chinned and Broad-tailed Hummingbird - the first new one! I approached closer and closer, trying to get a picture. I kept calling "Tom! Tom! Are you seeing this?"
When I finally turned around, wondering where Tom was, I sighted him well behind me, with his hands akimbo, looking slightly perturbed. I don't think this whole "birding" concept was going over well...
After that, we left quickly. Fortunately, our next destination was Patagonia, and we were able to get a motel room very close to the refuge I wanted to visit. The plan was that I would leave at the crack of dawn and go birding, and Tom would sleep in. We would meet around noon, have lunch and go on to the next stop.