So you want to Bird in Sedona June 22, 2017

A day and a half in Sedona: it wasn’t much time, but our hockey team made the best of it. The pools, the hot tubs, the meditation classes and massages.

Then there were the hikes.

For me, hiking involves looking for birds and wildlife. That means I try to get out with a guide at least once when I’m travelling, hiking trails I otherwise might miss and hoping to spot elusive local birds. (Endemic species, to use jargon.)

In Phoenix, I found a link to Birding Northern Arizona run by Tim Weber, and offered my hockey friends a chance to join me on a birding tour of the Sedona area. Inexplicably, they declined, choosing instead to do a grueling five-hour hike of Bear Mountain—which, by the way, they recommend for fit people (like hockey players) with good boots and plenty of water. As in, buckets of water, even on a coolish day.

Tim and I met at 6 a.m. in the Enchantment Resort and Spa parking lot and spent the rest of the morning hiking a couple of trails, the first of them flat and mild and filled with vireos, the second on the flanks of Bear Mountain, which we climbed until there weren’t likely to be any more new species to be seen. (Or more than the stray hockey buddy, for that matter.)

I recommend Tim highly. Under his guidance, I saw many common birds I already know and nineteen southwestern U.S. species I’ve never seen before, including the very handsome phainopepla, a bird that is the reverse of our northern cardinal: all brilliant black instead of red, similarly crested, and with a red eye instead of a black one. Also white patches under the wings, so that when the phainopepla flies, there’s a beat of white over the dun-coloured desert.

Phainopepla

What I like most about birds is watching their behaviour, and a mockingbird put on a fine display that morning, fooling Tim a couple of times by mimicking the calls of locally rare birds, including the juniper titmouse and Cassin’s kingbird. Tim said the calls were note perfect, and if a bird can look proud of itself, that one did, mocking us repeatedly as it flew from bush to bush, mimicking a total of four different calls.

At various times, two ladderback woodpeckers swirled around us in a mating flight, while a pretty-little black-throated sparrow singing in the distance answered the call from Tim’s app and hopped onto a bush at the edge of the trail. There were several beautiful orioles in several locations—Scott’s, Bullock’s and the hooded oriole—and a couple of times we spotted bright summer tanagers.

But bird lists are boring and  listers can be very odd people. One time, when my husband and I were birding with a guide in Portugal, he told us about a lister who had hired him to find him individuals from the seven rare species in Portugal and Spain he had not yet seen.

Having an idea where they might be found, the guide drove the lister around the peninsula for a week. The man spent most of his time reading. Only when the guide spotted one of the seven birds did the lister emerge from the car, raise his binoculars for a quick look, tick the bird off his list and ask to see the next one, maybe a day’s drive away.

The one bird that the guide wasn’t able to find was the little bustard, listed as near-threatened because of habitat loss. The Portuguese guide told us ruefully that the man was very rude about not ticking off the final bird, even though they’d successfully spotted members of six very rare species.

A couple of days after meeting the guide, I took great pleasure in seeing two little bustards. We were renting a beautiful 300-year-old cottage in the Portuguese mountains near Spain, its walls three feet thick, its small garden and terrace surrounded by vinyards and pasture. One morning, I saw suspiciously large bird prints in the damp edges of the path leading to the nearest field. After keeping a look-out for the next couple of days, I finally saw two little bustards feeding amid the sheep.

In Sedona, Tim brought out a picnic snack before driving me back to the hotel. There it was spa, pool and hot tub except for another curious bird: an older man with curly dyed blond hair whom some of us thought we recognized as a rock musician or music producer, although we couldn’t figure out who he was. With him was a very young and extremely beautiful German woman, probably a model.

The curly-headed man has to go in the books as an unidentified species. When I looked online, the only music type I thought faintly resembled him was Phil Spector, who is otherwise occupied. (Prison for murder.) The model had a tattoo of a coiled scorpion on her lower back and was reading a thick book–the female of the human species often, in my opinion, boasting smarter plumage than the male.

The next day, we were back in the cars, back to Phoenix, back to Toronto. Back to hockey a few days later, a game in which one of our teammates broke her arm. At least it was after the tournament, as her son said. But poor Kim! Breaking her arm at the beginning of summer.

Next stop for our team will be volunteering this fall to help build a house for Habitat for Humanity. In 2018, maybe a tournament in Nashville. Skate sisters, putting ourselves out there. Give me a reason why not.