We did our research, but a key piece of information seemed to be missing, and we were left a bit unsettled. Had we known, would we have gone?
Here’s the story, in photos:
The San Pedro River is one of the best places to see birds in SE Arizona. Why? It’s a river with woods on both banks and “hosts two-thirds of the avian diversity in the United States, including 100 species of breeding birds and 300 species of migrating birds” according to The Nature Conservancy. We parked at the visitor center of the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area and took off through the grasslands for the woodland by the river.
We met two women from Nevada on the trail. We started to talk about birds they’d seen when we spied caterpillars crawling on their arms, their shirts, up their pants. Whoa!
They said the trail and the trees ahead were full of tent caterpillars. They’d never seen so many. Neither had we. As we walked forward, caterpillars were squirming on surfaces all around us.
hey told us the pond nearby had some interesting birds. We used the time at the pond to distract ourselves from thinking about caterpillars and look for birds. We became more interested in spotting the many bullfrogs, hiding in the pond.
It was almost a relief to look down and see something else crawling on the ground.
We headed back to the visitor center. As we walked over to the counter, the staff person knew exactly what our question was before we even had a chance to open our mouths! She smiled and without a word handed us a guidebook opened to the page for the forest tent caterpillar.
We later discovered that the caterpillars make great food for all the migrating birds. We know somehow that should have made us feel better.
As we drove away, Joe found a caterpillar on his neck, and we tried to remember to think of them as merely good “bird food.”
Soon enough the caterpillars will be gone, either devoured by the birds or metamorphizing into moths. That would be a better time to visit, we think.