Sonja and I took a trip down to Phoenix this morning to use up a couple free passes we had for the Desert Botanical Garden. Obviously, one of the main reasons for going to a botanical garden is to see plants. However, because of the abundance of plants and native habitats available at good botanical gardens (and this one certainly qualifies), they are also fantastic places to see birds. This was a perfect opportunity for us to try to find more lifers and just enjoy some Sonoran Desert birding.
Of course, 60 miles down the interstate I turn to Sonja and ask a fateful question, "Did you bring the binoculars?"
Pretty sad that a pair of hard-core birders leaving for a birding trip forget to pack a pair of binoculars. Luckily, the lady at the front gate of the garden lent us what I am assuming at one time passed for binoculars...about eighty years ago. They worked... sort of. And it certainly was nice of her to let us use them. At least we had remembered to bring a bird guide. In fact, we brought two of them, just in case.
Anyway, we were hoping to see a reported Rufous-backed Robin, a rare visitor from Mexico that had been spotted in the garden a couple days ago. No such luck, although we both got some lifers (me: Black-tailed Gnatcatcher; Sonja: Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, Inca Dove, White-winged Dove, and Western Tanager).
Despite the heat (it was well over 90 today in Phoenix) it was a really fun and interesting place to walk around. However, we were very disappointed and shocked to see three domestic cats wandering around freely outside. The staff at the garden all knew about them and even defended the fact that they intentionally allow them to wander around the entire garden. For a place whose mission is to "advance excellence in education, research, exhibition, and conservation", seeing their blatant disregard for the safety of all the wild birds that depend on the garden to survive was very, very disheartening. The fact that the staff saw nothing wrong with letting the cats roam freely really pissed me off, too. We had been planning on spending a fair bit of money in the cool gift shop they had, too. Suffice to say, they will not be getting any business from us until they keep the cat inside.
I know people get really defensive about their "right" to allow their cat outside, but you know what? Tough. Keep your freakin' cat INSIDE! Domestic cats are responsible for killing an estimated 2.5 BILLION songbirds in the United States EVERY SINGLE YEAR. They do NOT belong outside! Don't get me wrong, I love cats (and many of you know we own one ourselves). But you will never see us let her outside, unless she is in our arms or on a leash (with the sole exception of a single time a couple weeks ago when we woke up at 2:30am to a cat meowing outside our bedroom window...only to discover that it was a mildly terrified Annie, who had snuck out the back door seven hours earlier without us noticing).
Ok, enough ranting. Here are some pictures from the day. The desert is in full bloom right now, making the walk very colorful and exciting.
One of the coolest plants I've seen since moving here is the ocotillo. For much of the year, they just look like a bunch of tall (they can grow up to 8 feet high), skinny dead sticks stuck in the ground. But when it rains they grow these really cool leaves and have neato red blossoms on the top.
I'm not even going to pretend that I know what kind of cactus this is.
Here's another mystery cactus with white flowers.
Ok, yeah, I should probably look these up. But for some reason, they just don't really interest me all that much. They are pretty, though. See? This one's pink!
There were also a good number of hummingbirds around, such as this female Anna's. We were trying to turn each one into a Costa's Hummingbird, but they just wouldn't cooperate.
They had a butterfly tent set up, too. But, they're not birds, either, so I don't know what this one is...except that it's all stripy!
This butterfly was definitely my favorite. They even let me take it home with me!