BarrelCactus

Perils of Bird Watching in the Tucson Desert

by Sally Blanchard

I had just about always loved birds, but I really started birdwatching about a year after I moved to Tucson Arizona. I was married to an Air Force Officer at the time and, looking back now, it seemed like a totally different life. My father had also been an Air Force Officer so I pretty much knew that wives had certain "obligations." I actually did a lot of the the wifely duties from playing bridge and Mah-Jongg, plus bowling and playing golf. I also belonged to the Air Force officers wives' club and attended the squadron and wing functions that I was expected to go to - even if I had to wear white gloves.


I was asked to join a women's bridge group that met at the home of the squadron commander. They lived way out in the desert and I thought I would leave a couple of hours early so I could check out the birds near where she lived. I found a wonderful location with a lot of saguaros and other cacti. I immediately saw birds flying around everywhere and couldn't figure out which way to go to see them. I kept hearing something that sounded to me something like a Bobwhite but I knew these quail didn't live in the Sonoran desert. I kept chasing after the calls because I wanted to know what bird was making that sound. Finally, I saw the bird out of the corner of my eye and I pivoted around to get a better look. It was the first Curve-billed thrasher I had ever seen, but as I had turned to see it, I fell backwards onto a barrel cactus. It felt like a hundred bee stings. 

Luckily I was not too far from the squadron commander's home so I got there quite a bit early because I wanted to give her time to find someone else to take my place at bridge since I was going to go to the base hospital and explain my tale of woe and have the cactus spines removed from my derriere. Driving was not easy. It turned out the the squadron commander's wife was a nurse and she volunteered to help me out. With the addition of some iodine, the cactus spines were removed and, although it was a bit difficult to sit, I played an afternoon of bridge. Needless to say I will never forget my first Curve-billed thrasher and luckily it was my last confrontation with a barrel cactus. 


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