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Southeast Arizona, May 2017 (1 Viewer)

Hamhed

Well-known member
This report is enormously long. You have been warned! |=o|

May 16-

For birders looking for some unique western U.S. birds, there are few locations better than southeastern Arizona. The “sky island”, desert topography and proximity to Mexico makes for a wide range of exciting species. Our experiences there in previous visits have all been productive so my wife, Liz, and I found ourselves revisiting the area in the second half of May.
The encompassing term “southeastern” for us means the area directly surrounding the city of Tucson and the region south to the Mexican border and east to the New Mexico state line. We were focused mainly on the Santa Rita mountains nearly due south of Tucson, the Huachucas, the next range to the east and finally, further eastward, the Chiracahuas, the last set of hills before leaving the state. Surrounding these higher elevations is mostly desert habitat, though there are a few exceptions, such as, grasslands or river corridors. This section of Arizona is very dry; Tucson’s average annual rainfall is only 12 inches (30C). The scarcity of water can be a resource for birders; a canyon with a year-round stream or any surface water becomes a bird magnet.
Flying into Tucson from our home in western North Carolina, we picked up a rental car at Enterprise, shopped for groceries and camp fuel, got briefly lost in the city and drove a long hour south to Madera Canyon, in the Santa Rita mountains, pitching our tent in the hard, dry ground at Bog Springs Campground, elevation just shy of one mile (1.6K) high. Tucson airport is at 2600 feet (792M) but the upward change is gradual until the last mile. The canyon was not unfamiliar to us as this was my third and Liz’s second visit, that trip being 10 years in the past.

Birding and traveling in the west has great appeal to us. After a number of these jaunts over the years, we were not likely to see a great deal of new birds but we did have a few rare species we were hoping to see. To keep track of what species were where we used the Rare Bird Alert (http://tucsonaudubon.org/go-birding/southeast-arizona-rare-bird-alert/) and eBird (http://ebird.org/content/ebird/). I used a section of eBird called “Manage My Alerts”, where settings can be made to keep us posted on daily reports of rare species.
Speaking of rare birds, our chosen timing was too late to catch the Lewis’s Woodpecker that had been seen by many on Mount Lemon, just outside Tucson or the Streak-backed Oriole visiting a fruit feeder in Portal. There will always be the ones that leave just before we arrive so no tears for those missed birds.
In the Santa Rita’s, we had several species we hoped to find, many of them were birds of the night hours. As the light faded in the campground that night, while Liz succumbed to the long day that had started at 4 am, I found the energy of the walking dead to stay awake just a bit longer. And good that I did. In the still night air and quickly dropping temperatures, I first saw a Nighthawk, likely a Lesser, flying low over the road and threading it’s rapid flight through the campground trees. A Common Poorwill began calling though from a distance and the funny, high pitched barking sounds of an Elf Owl. Then there was two Elf Owls very close, a shadow flitted nearby and I heard the quick “poo-poo-poo-poo” of a Whiskered Screech Owl. I was joined by Mark from Sedona, Arizona, as a Mexican Whip-poor-will started its repetitive phrases. The number and diversity of calling night birds was far beyond any experience I’d ever had. Could it get any better? Far up the mountain, a Mexican Spotted Owl called! I didn’t know the sound but Mark was familiar with them and identified it. Elated but walking on wooden legs, I left Mark, trying to see one of the still calling Elf Owls.
 

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Hamhed

Well-known member
May 17-

I woke early to chilly temperatures, 39-40 degrees (4C), and a light breeze. Perfect for camp coffee and lots of it. A noisy band of 7-8, pastel hued, Mexican Jays drifted into the campsite, hoping for a morning handout. It was not easy to ignore them, perched just several feet directly above my head. Two Bridled Titmice, sounding to my ears very similar to Chickadees, worked the small oaks and a White-breasted Nuthatch inched its way up and down a juniper. I tried to drink my scalding coffee and use the bins to find singing Hepatic Tanagers hiding in the oak leaves. Sun was just reaching the east facing mountain sides but it would be sometime before our campsite would see any.
To reach that warm sun, Liz and I walked the half mile down to the main road, and on to the Proctor Road parking lot. This is the start of the 3.5 mile (5.K) Nature Trail that generally follows Madera Creek up to the Mount Wrightson Picnic Area, which itself is the beginning of several trails that lead up to much higher elevations. We were there for the Black-capped Gnatcatcher, an uncommon breeding species whose larger range is in Mexico. For weeks, this bird had been reported close to the parking lot, nesting and raising young who had fledged recently. Other birders also walked and searched the few trails and Proctor Road itself, which accessed miles of primitive camping in mesquite scrub. More than an hour later, we had seen a few good desert species like the abundant Bell’s Vireo, a wispy Verdin nest building and one Lucy’s Warbler. Not overly showy, these birds were patterned for the desert. Even the yellow head of the Verdin seemed muted, compared to the Western Tanager we also found. With several more days to go in the area, we left the Gnatcatcher search for an uphill walk on the Nature Trail. This produced additional Vireo’s such as Hutton’s and Plumbeous, both the first of many of either species. Trying to separate the larger Flycatcher’s, we focused on the voices and identified both Dusky-capped and Ash-throated. An uncommon Arizona Woodpecker we found by its hammering was surprisingly our first woodpecker. Our first identifiable hummingbird was a Broad-billed, easily the most common hummingbird in Madera Canyon.
After lunch at our campsite, we drove up the canyon a very short distance to the Santa Rita lodge. Ten years ago, we had stayed in one of the comfortable cabins and enjoyed being close to the large bird feeding station set up outside the gift shop. Viewing conditions had improved greatly with a canopy, chairs and an more extensive array of seed, nectar and suet feeders. The water feature was always occupied despite Madera Creek being nearby. Since all the feeding birds were also acting as sentries, bathing birds felt safer with their heads in the water and feathers wet. We were to return here every day, usually eating ice cream in the heat of the day. Additional species we saw here were several Wild Turkeys, looking out of place next to the diminutive Lesser Goldfinches, Black-headed Grosbeaks, which would turn out to be a common bird in all of the locations we were to visit, one Blue Grosbeak, staying a bit hidden in a central brush pile, Black-chinned Hummingbird, maybe the second most common hummingbird and a few Doves, both White-winged and Mourning. Of course, there were Mexican Jays. If they were not seen, they usually could be heard somewhere not far away.
We wanted to spend some time on one of the forest trails higher up. Three trails lead off from the Mt. Wrightson picnic area, all accessing elevations over 7000 feet (2133M). Staring out at 5400 feet (1645M), each step would have to be higher that the last, the Carrie Nation trail that followed Madera Creek being the flattest. We chose the creek and soon had calling Cordilleran Flycatchers, flashy Painted Redstarts and the first Yellow-eyed Junco. The most exciting find was flat on the ground and rattling! I haven’t heard a rattlesnake for years but there is no mistaking that distinctive warning. A beautiful Black-tailed Rattlesnake crossed the stony path ahead of us. From then on, I tried to at least occasionally look ahead before walking. More Black-headed Grosbeaks and Hutton’s Vireos, species we would see daily in the Santa Ritas.
Late afternoon and higher temperatures arrived so we returned to the campsite.
A pair of Scott’s Orioles passed through the campground while we ate. These are typically a brilliantly colored desert species that can also be found in oak woodlands. We wouldn’t see many of these though their clear song was heard regularly in appropriate habitat. After last night’s chorus of night bird sounds, I was very much looking forward to a repeat performance but that was not to be as the wind picked up and nary a Owl was heard or Nighthawk seen.
That is, not until 4 am. The wind gone, the Owls and Whip-poor-will gently woke me, an interruption to my sleep I didn’t mind at all.
 

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Hamhed

Well-known member
Black-tailed rattlesnake.
 

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Hamhed

Well-known member
May 18-
A pair of our target birds could be found in an adjacent canyon to the north. Up early after a much warmer night, we noted a male Wilson’s Warbler moving in the campground along with the expected Mexican Jays and drove to Florida Canyon. Just minutes later, following signs to the Florida Work Center, we arrived at the small gravel parking area. As a side note: Florida means “many flowers” or “flowered” in Spanish. Though a better season for flowering plants was likely in July and August after summer rains wet the ground and cooled the air, we saw a good number of flowering plants in this area, many of which appeared to be useful to hummingbirds and other nectar feeders such as the Scott’s Oriole, mentioned earlier.
A narrow, rocky, cactus-lined trail took us past the Work Center, over a dry wash and gently up, past a water tank and small, old dam. This area was reported as where a family of Rufous-capped Warblers was best seen. Activity in the thick brush and small trees was good enough to continually interrupt our focus. A pair of Golden Eagles showed briefly along the dry ridge line above us. The hillsides were stony and sparsely vegetated. Cactus Wrens, Varied Buntings, Scott’s Orioles and Rufous-crowned Sparrows occupied that ground. At our level, we crisscrossed a small stream several times during the morning and saw a good variety of species in the lush greenery. Unexpected and not photographed were three Montezuma Quail, adjacent to the trail and very concerned about our presence, quickly and noisily working deeper into thick cover. There were three Tanagers here, Hepatic, Summer and Western. Canyon Towhees, Black-headed Grosbeaks, White-winged Doves and American Robins made up most of the larger birds. The spiky-headed Phainopepla is a mid-sized bird; they were feeding on fruits in low, stream-side shrubs. In that size category were also a Ladder-backed Woodpecker and Dusky-capped Flycatcher. The smallest birds included one each Yellow Warbler, Black-throated Gray, Wilson’s Warbler and Hutton’s Vireo. Bell’s Vireos were common. Further along on the trail and slightly higher up, we found flycatchers we put down as a Western Flycatcher species. Cordilleran were a breeding species here but Pacific-slope Flycatchers were migrating through. Nearly identical to each other, we did not hear any song (which is also very similar) and left the identification to another day. We admired the boundless energy of two tiny Bushtits. At the end of our travels though, we missed the Rufous-capped family that was somewhere in that canyon. Before exiting into the parking lot, we watched as a Gray hawk flew overhead and I snapped a quick photo of a perched bird I later identified as a Canary, likely escaped from the nearby town of Green Valley.
A short stop at Proctor Road with faint hopes of an afternoon Gnatcatcher, we ate lunch at the campground before revisiting the Nature Trail for a walk in the stream-side shade. Shade or not, the afternoon was plenty warm. So, we finished our walk eating ice cream and watching the feeder activity at the Santa Rita Lodge. In addition to the usual species, a female Magnificent and an Anna’s Hummingbird joined the Black-chinned and Broad-billed and two Bronzed Cowbirds came in to nibble at the seed. A known nectar feeder, an Acorn Woodpecker commandeered one of the sugar water feeders. There were a couple of Wild Turkeys on the ground, gobbling up probably more than their share of seed but that wasn’t enough. One hen hopped up on the seed feeder, displacing the pair of Cowbirds.
Rested and cooled enough to think about stretching our legs yet again, we somehow got started on a fairly steep trail that led 1.3 mile (2KM) above the campground. The Dutch John Trail climbed up 1000 feet (300M) to a very small spring by the same name. Birds were not very active along the way but we did see one lone Javelina, a brown-haired wild pig. Given their speed and reputation for being pugnacious, these chunky western
Legs finally worn out for the day, we had one more “task” for the day - watching a telephone pole at dusk! That we would do that is no surprise for some of you who know that woodpeckers sometimes excavate wooden electrical poles. The hole is up for grabs the following year and just the right size for an Elf Owl to raise a family. At 5.75 inches (14.6C), they are North America’s smallest owl. The hole we were to watch was barely more than 2 inches high. The pole is across from the Santa Rita Lodge and is, in fact, on the property of the lodge owner. This is not a “secret” location; when we arrived just after 7pm, several others, including the owner, were already positioned for the resident owl to be at the hole. We had a chance for some quiet and light conversation as the owl was apparently late to show that night. Twenty minutes late, in fact and past time for the best lighting, as the rule against camera flash was well broadcast by the owner. The owl seemed unperturbed so all were using cameras with whatever low light potential they had.
An Elf Owl was calling back at camp though not much else.
 

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Hamhed

Well-known member
May 19-
In the predawn stillness, several owls and the Whip-poor-will were calling. No less than 3 Elf Owls were heard, one cackling somewhere near the tent. The Whip and Whiskered Screech-Owl were also much closer than before. A recording might have been possible but foggy-headed me just lay there enjoying the activity. Yet another bird hooted that I couldn’t identify. Three notes, without the cadence of the Spotted Owl but not the usual length of a Great Horned which were supposed to be somewhat common. It only sounded off twice and I had to let that one go.
An hour after dawn, which was about 4:45 in late May, Liz and I were on Florida Canyon road again. Driving slowly, we tried to cover the 2.5 miles (4K) by driving slowly, stopping just twice and scanning the shrubs for the elusive Black-capped Gnatcatcher. We found Bell’s Vireos, White-winged Doves, young Verdin’s and several other common desert species. Had we not been keen on walking the Florida Canyon trail again where both Gnatcatcher and Rufous-capped Warbler could be found, we might have spent the morning on the road.
Other birders were also on the trail, luckily for us, because it was them who found the Rufous-capped Warblers and told us where to find them. Good looks were not easy. We could make out an immature bird deep in a shadowy bush and had to shift position multiple times until we could get acceptable looks at the more colorful parents.
On the return walk, we found a Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet, a species we’d only seen in southern Texas. Glowing Hooded Orioles by the Work Center were also new for the trip. I saw a gnatcatcher there but the view was too brief for a positive i.d. As we passed a guided birding group, we forwarded the Warbler location and left the trail to spend more time birding the road for the Black-capped Gnatcatcher. Word was that the bird could be found either around the Center or in the two miles of road preceding the parking area. That’s a good bit of road to cover for a 4.25 inch (11C) bird. Look alike Black-tailed and Blue-Gray could also be in the mix. Identification would be made by sound, by the extent of the black cap and the white feathers under the tail. When we didn’t see any gnatcatchers over the next hour, the warbler was worth the morning spent.
After a lazy lunch at camp and a quick check of the lodge feeders, it was time for another go at the base of Mount Wrightson, this time on the Super Trail. Steeper than our previous mountain walk, on this afternoon, we had no intention of doing the 3.7 miles (6K) to Josephine Saddle at 7080 feet (2158M). The afternoon was comfortably warm at 1000 feet (304M) up from Florida Canyon. In a bare patch near the start of the trail, a Rufous-crowned Sparrow was a surprise. The birds became more likely after that. Plumbeous Vireos ruled the trees. Slow moving and not shy, we got to know their calls and were always happy to hear them around. Most all others were singles - Western Wood-Pewee, Common Raven, Hutton’s Vireo, Painted Redstart, Yellow-eyed Junco, and Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, the expected species for these upper, wooded elevations. A Northern or Red-shafted Flicker called, sounding exactly like our Yellow-shafted from the Eastern US.
Good views and pictures were taken of a very calm (and non-poisonous!) Sonoran Mountain Kingsnake. The forest began to include many pines, a sign of the elevation change we had made. It was at this point, we turned around, possibly a good hour’s walk from the parking lot.
The afternoon sun had warmed the campground area so we took turns using our new solar shower and watching Bridled Titmice. Down the hill we went yet again to Proctor Road. We had faint hopes of Western Screech Owls here. The elevation was on the verge of being too high and the habitat might be dry and scrubbish, if such a word exists. It didn’t help that we arrived too early but managed to stay until dusk by strolling up and down the road through what is called “dispersed camping”. There was the additional slim chance of a Gnatcatcher in this habitat of mesquite and dry grass.
At the end of the day, however, we heard nor saw either or much of anything else for that matter. A astronomy group was setting up in the parking lot as we left. Our day ended and theirs was just beginning.
 

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Hamhed

Well-known member
Same day sightings.
 

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Hamhed

Well-known member
May 20-
Elf Owls and the Whip-poor-will sounded off in the early morning hours. Waking to those sounds made being on that hard ground seem more bearable. Breakfast was early on this 54 degree ( C), clear morning and we started the day where we finished - the Proctor parking lot. You might guess that we were fixated on a certain Gnatcatcher. In the hour between 6 and 7 am, we birded Madera Canyon Road near the lot and a dirt track across from the parking area that had some desert habitat, with a dry wash. In a quick moving, mixed flock, I was stunned by the unmistakable face of a Hermit Warbler, out of its normal habitat of tall evergreens. A Black-throated Sparrow perched in a dead snag also seemed out of place but gave us a good look. Walking on the dirt track, we had a Say’s Phoebe, several Northern Mockingbirds and a pair of Brown-crested Flycatchers. When it was time to go for the mountain hike planned for the day, the Gnatcatcher had eluded us yet another day.
The day was still young as we started the long and definitely uphill hike on the Old Baldy trail. The two and one half miles (4K) to Josephine Saddle took most of the morning with good birding all the way. Our recently made friends, the Mexican Jays, were never far out of range and other familiar birds, Bridled Titmice, Yellow-eyed Juncos, Acorn Woodpeckers, Dusky-capped Flycatchers, Plumbeous Vireos, Bridled Titmice, White-breasted Nuthatches, House Wrens, Western Wood-Pewees, Swainson’s Thrushes and more. Black-headed Grosbeaks outnumbered all others with 11 seen or heard. A few new species for the list included Greater Pewee, a song so distinctive I could remember it clearly from ten years past and a couple of Red-faced Warblers, whose distinction was in their striking head pattern.
A break at Josephine Saddle was shared with a number of other hikers, two of which were on their way to Mt. Wrightson, 2400 feet (731M) higher at 9453 feet (2881M). Our next move however was in the opposite direction on the Agua Caliente trail. Staying at or near the 7000 foot (2133M) elevation, we were to travel 2.2 miles (3.5K) to the trail that would take us back down to our starting point. This direction took us through more pines than deciduous trees and that showed in the birds we found - Brown Creepers, a Western Tanager, Wilson’s Warbler and Bushtits. Yellow-eyed Juncos were numerous and raising young. We found the Vault Mine trail, a shale-covered, very steep descent to Madera Creek. Focused on our footing on this dry, warm hillside, we noted few birds until reentering the wooded area near the creek where the trail leveled off a bit. An Elegant Trogon called, this being noted for the best area in Madera Canyon to find this species. We might have stayed to get a look but the realization that the Santa Rita Lodge store would be closing very soon gave us the choice of staying for a chance at seeing the bird (we had seen multiple Trogons on our last visit) or ice cream! We nearly broke into a sprint for the car, getting to the store as the last customers. Watching the feeders with our tired butts in a chair, ice cream in hand, ended the long day perfectly.
Well, not quite. We couldn’t resist on our last night here to go back to the upper end of the road and see if we could find any other night birds calling. Northern Saw-whet, Flammulated and Northern Pygmy-Owl were all said to be resident. Along with a few other birders who had similar thoughts, we stayed in the Mt. Wrightson picnic area for a short time, listening to Mexican Whip-poor-wills but no other sounds. It was late and our legs were ready for rest; a night time foray into the forest would have to wait for another visit.
 

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Hamhed

Well-known member
From upper elevations.
 

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Hamhed

Well-known member
May 21-

On a 60 degree morning, we packed our camping gear. Leaving the area meant no more chances at the Gnatcatcher. Optimism often returns after a night’s sleep so we decided to try walking the Florida Canyon road one more time, concentrating on the area near the Work Center. Expected species showed - White-winged Doves, Bell’s Vireo, Black-throated Sparrow, and a Verdin. A Curve-billed Thrasher was seen carrying food and one colorful Townsend’s Warbler drew my eye to a set of low trees. There were other birds there also. They were small and long-tailed. They were Gnatcatchers! I called to Liz and we tracked the birds, trying to see the diagnostic features. Making almost no sounds, they flitted across the road, stopping close enough to see the black cap and white eye ring. The white undertail was seen seconds later; we had our bird! I followed the birds up the dry and grassy hill for a few photos as they worked the mesquites.
There’s no better fuel for traveling than a productive morning’s birding. We drove happily on south to the border town of Nogales, fueling the car before taking Route 82 north and east to the famed Patagonia Roadside Rest Area, a few miles shy of the town of Patagonia. Not our first time here, we had a good idea what to expect in the way of birds. A Blue Grosbeak was the first bird in our hour long stay. Phainopepla’s were the most common bird. A pair of Gray Hawks cried out with a curious sound labeled the “peacock call” on my National Geographic phone app. A Western Kingbird gave us pause as one of the specialties of this spot was Thick-billed Kingbird. The Western was colored with too much yellow and only a medium-sized bill.
Paralleling the other side of the road was Sonoita creek and we ventured there to listen to a Montezuma Quail and watch a Yellow Warbler. We had one new bird for the trip, a Yellow-breasted Chat. All others were fairly common species - Lesser Goldfinches, Bridled Titmice, White-winged Doves, Turkey Vultures, etc.
On to Patagonia, where we found an excellent lunch spot at the Gathering Grounds (http://www.gatheringgroundsaz.com). I couldn’t help but add an eBird report for the city park just outside the restaurant. Great-tailed Grackles and Barn Swallows made the trip list.
Our next stop was another well known birding location and it was just a few blocks away. What used to be a small and simple house where a dedicated old woman fed hummingbirds for years, inviting the public for only donations, is now the Paton Center for Hummingbirds, operated by Tucson Audubon (http://tucsonaudubon.org/go-birding/tucson-audubons-paton-center-for-hummingbirds/). The grounds of the Paton’s house are developed for more than just hummingbirds. There were several water features, gardens planted for butterflies and hummingbirds, seed feeding stations and many benches for comfortable observation. We spent a couple of warm hours here finding a good variety of birds at the various feeder stations and in the vegetation at the perimeter. Gambel’s Quail kept their fledgling chicks in deep cover but the adults seemed fairly comfortable with human presence. Gila Woodpeckers sipped sugar water while other birds, Song Sparrow, Abert’s Towhee, Nuthatches, Titmice, and Grosbeaks, ate sunflower seed. In a tree that seemed to have it’s own elevator, a Curve-billed Thrasher entered its nest site at the lower level but left the snag several feet higher. An interesting place but not the best season for hummingbird diversity and we saw nothing new.
The Center was our last stop before continuing our drive east towards the town of Sierra Vista and an Airbnb location where showers and a soft mattress were greatly looked forward to. As we unpacked at our somewhat rural stay, we noted a Harris Hawk on a light pole, surveying the adjacent yards. A Greater Roadrunner, one that we would see daily, patrolled the fence line. The balance of the evening was all about us as we cleaned off five days of camping dust, then found a restaurant and grocery store.
 

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Hamhed

Well-known member
Two from Paton's.
 

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Hamhed

Well-known member
May 22-
Our south of town location was ideal for visiting the various canyons in the Huachuca Mountains. The Army’s military base of Fort Huachuca held access to several of them, Huachuca, Garden, Brown, Sawmill and Sheelite Canyons are all accessed through the fort’s main gate and heavy security. After 30 minutes of filling out forms, having a plastic id card made and issued, we drove several miles into the fort (it’s big!) ad parked at the lower picnic area in Garden Canyon.
Several birds attracted us to this location. Flame-colored Tanager was reported sporadically here this season as well as Buff-breasted Flycatcher. We first scoured the oak woodlands surrounding the open, short grass fields and missed one bird in the dense tops of the trees that had potential for the Tanager. The most interesting birds of the first hour, two Gray Hawks called to each other as they climbed up into the warming sky. Other birds were the usual Plumbeous Vireos, Mexican Jays, Bushtits and one Spotted Towhee. Say’s Phoebes hunted from low perches.
More interesting birds were at the upper picnic area, about 3 miles and a few hundred feet (120M) higher. The change in elevation seemed to make a difference. Swifts played overhead in the morning light, both the distinctively large White-throated and a single, square-tailed Vaux’s. An unseen Trogon called while, just a few feet away, we watched a young Broad-tailed Hummingbird bathe. Titmice, Vireos, Painted Redstarts and a Wilson’s Warbler kept the activity high and I followed one small bird to a spot fairly high in a sun-lit juniper. As it stopped briefly on its nest, I could see the overall yellowish coloring of the Buff-breasted Flycatcher. It would return to that nest several times while we photographed it. No sign of the Flame-colored Tanager, though we found Western and Hepatic Tanagers. One each of Hermit Thrush, Cordilleran Flycatcher, Arizona Woodpecker were nice but one of our favorite western bird sounds, the clear, descending whistle of a Canyon Wren, really put a smile on our faces.
Before midday, we stopped to visit a pictograph site. Visible behind protective fencing were rock paintings by long gone Apache Indians who were likely the area’s original birders. This was a very pleasant spot to take a break. A small, clear stream flowed through a bank of red and yellow flowers flowers. We ate in the cool shade and watched a female Western Tanager go to her nest, then a Plumbeous Vireo do the same.
We drove on a bit higher. The Fort is about 4800 feet (1463M); the end of the good road (as far as our rental sedan was concerned), was around 6200 (1890M). From where we parked was the beginning of several trails though we didn’t go far on any of them. In the warming temperatures, we watched flycatchers, Jays, Creepers and Grosbeaks. One Grace’s Warbler came out briefly on the outer branches of a pine tree, its favored habitat. Junipers made up much of the balance of the thin, dry forest. This was also apparently good habitat for Bushtits. I found a fledgling along the road that had tumbled down a bare, hot slope. Several failed attempts to regain higher ground had the young bird panting and weak. One parent came for a feeding visit but it was clear the tiny bird was in distress. I donned my superhero cape, picked up the weightless Bushtit and put it up the slope in the shade next to its siblings. Parents continued to feed all the birds; crisis averted.
Back down to the picnic areas for quick stops in hopes of an afternoon Tanager were not successful. On the way out of the Fort, not far from Range #5, a Loggerhead Shrike hunted the grassland from a fence top.
A pizza supper, washing clothes, squeezing in a few minutes of yard birding at our Airbnb, (Harris Hawk, Vermillion Flycatcher), made us a little late to get to the San Pedro house, east of Sierra Vista, a 12 mile drive. The house and grounds, which are connected to 57,000 acres (23,000HA) of protected conservation lands, sit in a riparian area adjacent to the San Pedro river. We weren’t interested in the river today however. EBird and local talk had made us aware there might just be a Western Screech Owl in a large cottonwood tree adjacent to the house. When we arrived, a sign by a metal gate warned of a dusk closing. Dusk was fast approaching but there were still a pair of cars in the parking lot at the end of the gravel entrance road. Deciding to take the risk for a quick look, we quickly parked and went to the right (wrong) side of the house. Doubling back, we stopped abruptly at the hoped for sight of a plump and gray, unperturbed Screech Owl, exactly where rumor told us it would be. Just enough time for a few quick photos then we were out of there before the metal gate swung closed for the night.
 

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Hamhed

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More from the same day.
 

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Hamhed

Well-known member
May 23-
Which canyon to choose? More choices than we had time for, locations for our target birds helped make that decision. In hindsight, I can’t say what made us choose Miller Canyon that day. Beatty’s Guest Ranch, well-known for its hummingbird feeders, was at the head of the canyon but we were more interested in following the trail.
By a few minutes after 6am, we were parked in the already sunny gravel lot. A half mile start through desert scrub, also known as chaparral, was comfortably cool but lacking birds. After crossing a deep, dry wash, we heard a distant owl tooting but could not distinguish it to species. Action was fairly constant though an irritating aspect to our walk was the constant sound of hounds, belonging to the Beatty ranch, roving throughout the valley. As we birded slowly alongside a shallow ravine of maples and sycamores, Tom Beatty, Jr. and a small group of Australian birders caught up with us and we began to walk together. I had met Tom, Jr., eleven years ago and found him to be a likable sort. He makes no claims to being a birder but has become manager and operator of the guest ranch as his father ages. However, he did clear up the hooting owl identity as a Northern Pygmy-Owl which was nesting in the area.
The birding continued to be steady and very entertaining - several species of Flycatchers, including Red-faced and Painted Warblers, Nuthatches, both White and Red-breasted, Canyon, House and Bewick’s Wrens, Brown Creepers, as well as the other common species like Plumbeous Vireo, Broad-billed Hummingbird, Mexican Jay, Black-headed Grosbeak, House Finch, Hermit Thrush and Northern Flickers. Turkey Vultures occasionally seen and Ravens often heard. At some point, it was made clear to Liz and I that Tom was looking for a specific bird at a specific location. There was a stretch where he knew it was possible to find a pair of roosting Spotted Owls. Just past a point on the trail known as “split rock”, he found them. Sheltering in a small, deciduous tree, in dappled shade, the owls were barely 15 feet off the ground. Seemingly unconcerned by our presence, they preened and occasionally closed their eyes as we sat across the trail about 20 feet away, watching them for 15-20 minutes.
Except for Tom and his hounds, we all moved further up the mildly steep trail, collecting a Greater Pewee, a Grace’s Warbler and more Red-faced Warblers. When the Australians also left, Liz and I continued on, crossing the small stream twice, finding Stellar’s Jays and Arizona Woodpeckers. We ate and rested at a point that was still miles from Miller Peak, the highest point in the Huachucas at 9644 feet (2939M). A tinge of pain in my ankle made the decision for us to return.
We found a noiseless Warbling Vireo, high in an evergreen, and a second Buff-breasted Flycatcher on our return. The owls were still in place so we stopped to admire them for a few minutes. These were the Mexican sub-species of the Spotted Owl, a browner coloration of either the California or Northern versions.
After nearly 8 hours on the trail, we left for the Sierra Vista Environmental Operations Park or EOP. There are 50 acres of wetlands here, constructed for water reclamation. Our timing was not good as the wetlands are only open to birders during a regular Sunday morning bird walk. A shaded platform overlooked one section so, despite the heat and wind-blown dust and limited view, we stayed for a half hour finding a few Red-winged Blackbirds, Mallards and some swallows - Violet-green, Northern Rough-winged and Barn.
 

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Hamhed

Well-known member
May 24-
The birding day started just after 5 am when I scanned the yard for a few minutes. The Harris Hawk was up early on his usual position atop the power pole. Plenty of Dove activity with Eurasian Collared-Doves, White-winged and Mourning smiling back and forth. One Gambel’s Quail called out while the Vermillion Flycatcher pair watched for breakfast. The “kew, kew” call of two Cassin’s Kingbirds came from a low treetop.
Our plan was to spend the morning on the trails of the San Pedro house. The time was only a few minutes after six when we most fortunately joined a group of 8 local birders who were starting out on their own birding jaunt. The trails initially were in open land with a variety of small trees and shrubs, grasses and forbs filling in between. This experienced group was invaluable in quick identification by song or sight. Our 11 pair of eyes didn’t miss much. One of our better finds was our only singing Rufous-winged Sparrow, known in the US from only this part of Arizona. Botteri’s Sparrows were singing regularly, reminding me of a Field Sparrow, which I knew as a yard bird. Lucy’s Warblers, Blue Grosbeaks, Yellow-breasted Chats, Summer Tanagers, a single Varied Bunting, Cassin’s, Ash-throated and Brown-crested Kingbirds were all seen early on. As the day warmed, we entered the shade of the riparian forest for Warbling Vireo, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Summer Tanagers and Western Wood-Pewee. A few Mallards and a Great Blue Heron were seen in the San Pedro river, though in size, could have been called a stream or creek. Two raptors, a Gary Hawk and a Swainson’s Hawk, made the day list. We finished up at the surprisingly quiet hummingbird feeders with a single Black-chinned.

Fry’s, a local grocery store in Sierra Vista, supplied us with groceries and camping fuel that we’d need for the days ahead. But, first, we had a three night stay planned at the Ramsey Canyon Inn. No need to say where the Inn was located except that adjacent to the Inn’s parking was the gate to the Ramsey Canyon Preserve, operated by the Nature Conservancy. Unfortunately for morning birding, the gate and the Preserve did not open until 8am, if it was not a Tuesday or Wednesday, when the Preserve is closed entirely. Fortunately, Wednesday afternoon was well along when we arrived. Check-in was several hours away so we first sat in the tall shade over the hummingbird feeders and watched Broad-billed, Black-chinned and a good number of Magnificent Hummingbirds. The road we had just driven begged to be walked so we did that too and a good variety of birds, from Gray Hawk to Acorn Woodpecker to Painted Redstart to Blue Grosbeak, kept us occupied. We noted a 6 acre (2.4H) lot for sale for the reduced price of $190,000.
That wasn’t the only property for sale. The Inn had also been looking for a buyer for several years now. The aging original owners had to move on and leave the house and grounds in the hands of their son who seemed to be keeping the place going but maybe without the constant presence and service you would expect for $143 a night. Afternoon pie, made from scratch that day, helped ease the pain.
Both Whiskered Screech-Owls and Mexican Whips were calling as darkness became complete.
 

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Hamhed

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From Ramsey Canyon.
 

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Hamhed

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May 25

Birding the grounds and road in the early morning hours was productive. Yesterday’s Magnificent Hummingbirds are now known as Rivoli’s Hummingbirds. We found Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher, Black-throated Gray, Hepatic, Summer and Western Tanagers and other more common species. Back at the lodge, a Wild Turkey showed off for a pair of hens.
90 minutes later, we were still early for breakfast which is not served until 8 am. That’s what I would call a relaxed schedule for a place that promotes itself as a lodge for birders. I must admit, breakfast was very good and we left to go bird Ramsey Canyon with calories to burn.
One of our target birds that day was the Tufted Flycatcher, described by our 2016 Sibley guide as a very rare flycatcher visiting from Mexico, with no range map included. I think the first sighting in AZ was in 2008, with the first suspected nesting in 2015. One of the Ramsey Canyon Preserve docents we were told to seek out gave us some pretty specific instructions for the Flycatchers location. She also advised us on our other hoped for species, Flame-colored Tanager.
Our hike led us through and then out of the Preserve, when the slight upward incline became a switchbacked, tiring slog up a dry but somewhat shaded slope. We passed a Trogon barking as we began this assault on the calf muscles and Mexican Jays cheered us on.
Many huffs and puffs later, as a leveling of the trail began, we came to an overlook. The layered rock of the valley wall was spotted with small oaks and pines. White-throated Swifts played in the cool morning air. Though I tried, they moved too quickly and erratically to photograph. We scanned the cliffs and found a nesting pair of Common Ravens.
This was the beginning of the best section for the Tanager. Momentarily, I thought we had it within minutes of our arrival but the bird turned into a female Hepatic Tanager, squashing initial excitement. We were walking slowly downhill now, on a rocky path through small oaks, ears and bins at the ready. The trail bottomed out at a small but pretty stream, easily crossed. We pushed on after waiting a few minutes, the stream close by as our path continued mildly on into a forest that was starting to show a few evergreens. Birds always seemed nearby in this section - Painted Redstarts, Red-faced Warblers, Wood-Pewees, Brown Creepers, Tanagers, Hutton’s Vireos, Red-breasted and White-breasted Nuthatches and a few Woodpeckers. Bridled Titmice and Plumbeous Vireos were especially numerous. We did add Stellar’s Jay to our day list, a difficult to see bird but not at all hard to identify once the black spiked head is seen.
By our directions, we were leaving the area of the Tanager but entering the territory of the Flycatcher. Left by previous birders, the rock cairn and pine branches placed on the ground and shaped to be an arrow were easily found. The Flycatcher was not but we soon had the bird far up the hill, orange throat, tufted head feathers and flycatching. Never coming down to our level, we found it difficult to get a clear look as it as very active. We heard its soft “churee call”, but photos were out of the question as we spent our time with our bins, making a positive i.d. We lost the tiny bird at some point and walked the trail both directions, without locating it again. Elated to get any look at this rare bird but disappointed to get even a record photo, we knew we’d likely be making the trip back the next day for another chance.
More time in the section where the Flame-colored Tanager was said to be produced neither sight nor sound of the beast.
As we passed back through the preserve, there were Sulphur-bellied Flycatchers and Acorn Woodpeckers in the Arizona sycamores.

After a break for afternoon pie, we decided to visit Mary Jo Ballator’s place in Ash Canyon (http://ashcanyon.com). Mary Jo has maintained bird feeders since well before our visit 10 years ago and has hosted many rarities. Word was that a Northern Goshawk was regularly flying over her house in the evening, possibly returning to a roost site. Lucifer Hummingbird was regular here though more common later in the season when hummingbird numbers increase dramatically. We spent a pleasant couple of hours here in late afternoon, all feeders active, with 6 species of hummingbirds coming to the circle of feeders, Lucifer’s among them. Having Mary Jo come out to sit with us was a pleasure as she could identify each hummingbird before I could get my bins up. Other birds seen were Acorn, Ladder-backed and Gila Woodpeckers, Canyon and Spotted Towhees, Blue and Black-headed Grosbeaks, Wild Turkeys and Turkey Vultures, Curve-billed Thrashers, Bullocks and Scott’s Orioles and our constant companions, Mexican Jays.
 

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Hamhed

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From Mary Joe's Ash Canyon B&B.
 

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Hamhed

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May 26

Prior to breakfast and our return hike up for the Tufted Flycatcher, we drove out of the canyon to where the flat desert took over the landscape and parked at the Brown Canyon trailhead adjacent to Ramsey Canyon Road. Oddly enough, there was a paved bike trail along the road and we stayed on that for a short while, scanning the open ground with scattered mesquite. Quieter than we expected, we did find Roadrunners, Cactus Wrens, a Gambel’s Quail, one Cassin’s Kingbird, two Phainopeplas, a Northern Mockingbird and a singing Botteri’s Sparrow. The day warmed very fast out in the full sun, so we didn’t stay long but thought a return visit might be worthwhile.
We walked off our breakfast on the steep climb into the upper reaches of Ramsey Canyon, moving very slowly and intently where we might catch the Flame-colored Tanager. Back at the Tufted Flycatcher spot, three other birders were already there and pointed out the lichen covered nest of the Flycatcher. This time, the bird was sighted by all multiple times, though always briefly and only came close once, when I was looking at a Cordilleran Flycatcher in the opposite direction! Liz got a good look at it then and we all were able to watch it come and go from its nest up high on the stub of a broken branch. Plenty of other bird life to keep us occupied. The Tufted was our 6th flycatcher, Greater Pewee, Western Wood-Pewee, Cordilleran, Dusky-capped and Sulphur-bellied being the others. Warblers sightings included Red-faced, Painted Redstart and Black-throated Gray. The woodpecker list of Acorn, Ladder-backed, Northern Flicker and Arizona covered the expectations for that elevation. More White-throated Swifts at the lookout were seen on the way up as we rested.
Our final goal was that elusive Tanager said to be mainly seen between the rock outcrop of a overlook and the first stream crossing. We sat and walked and listened and looked for close to an hour in this closed-in, short stretch of trail with nothing resembling that bird. Wondering how it was that so many others had previously seen the bird here, (with many later sightings continued to be reported), yet we had not a nibble. Many head scratches later, we left for the inn and consolation pie.
That night, I spent some time at dusk in the parking lot of the Ramsey Canyon Preserve Visitor Center. I’m not sure if this was legal as the Preserve is closed at this hour but I was trying to get a look at the two Whiskered Screech-Owls that were calling from either side of the lot. Eventually, one did fly over my head, joining the other calling bird but a quickly moving shadow is the best I could manage.
 

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Hamhed

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May 27

This bright morning, we returned to the Brown Canyon trail and walked the road that led through grasslands speckled with stunted oaks, mesquite and other desert specialties. Our walk started with great views of a singing Botteri’s Sparrow and an immature Golden Eagle. Phainopepla’s were common but most other birds came in ones or twos. Another pair of birders joined us as we heard and saw a pair of Eastern Meadowlarks. Western would seem to be the default species but songs are different and apparently, Western Meadowlarks move north of this area in the breeding season. Of course, Mexican Jays were present. They use every type of habitat we have been to. A puzzle of a bird was waiting for us as we car back to the parking lot. I’ll include photos here for anyone who has some clues.
We returned to pack the car and eat our final breakfast before the planned drive to the east. Route 92 first goes southeast then curves directly east and parallels the Mexican border, 4 miles as the Raven flies to the south. We turned a bit north, traveled through the south edge of the Mule Mountains and back down to the border again at Douglas. A stop for a sandwich took us a block from the border but we had no inclination to go sideways and work on our Mexico bird list. From that city, our highway became Route 80 and took us northeast through low, brown mountains, (Perilla, Pedregosa, Squaw), and extensive grasslands, (San Bernardino Valley). The road basically cut through the extreme southeast corner of Arizona and we soon found ourselves turning on Stateline Road, which splits the border of New Mexico and Arizona. That only lasted seconds however as our turn for Sulphur Canyon Road came up quickly. In another minute, we were still in Arizona and parked at Willow Tank.
This small, man-made reservoir had originally been created to flood cotton fields no longer in existence. The surrounding, sparsely vegetated cattle fields didn’t use the water but the reservoir was kept wet by solar power which pulled water from a series of wells. Naturally, this oasis was a magnet for birds of all types., particularly for migrants. As it was nearly exactly midday and likely near 90 degrees (32F), activity was subdued. American Coots were the main attraction, with a few Mallards, Killdeer and a Red-winged Blackbird. There was the vague hope for a Bendire’s Thrasher, too much to hope for in a 45 minutes stop. A dust devil, a sort of a mini-tornado, moved across the desert
As I said, it was hot, Saturday and we knew the campsites in the higher elevations would be popular so back on dusty Stateline Road to Portal and the Chiricahua Mountains hoping for our own spot at one of the half dozen Forest Service campgrounds. As a side note, we passed a well kept pecan orchard of maybe 5 acres on Stateline Road. We were many miles from any surface water meaning the trees were likely serviced my the same method as Willow Tank. The mass of green was a brief but welcome change of scenery. Birding there would seem to have great potential.
We passed the absolute center of Portal, the Portal store and cafe, then three campgrounds in close proximity to each other. Idlewild, Stewart and Sunny Flats all had one or two sites available so we felt assured of being able to stay the night at that elevation which was nearly 4800 feet (1463M). With that information, we discussed birding plans for the following three days and decided to head for higher elevations where more campsites and more exciting birds might be found. Another very rare bird, a Slate-throated Redstart, was being sighted on the west side of the Chiracahuas, though we were not positive of the exact location.
It had been ten years since our last visit so our recollection of Pinery Canyon Road, or Forest Service road 42, that led us northwest through the mountains was a bit vague. We didn’t have a high clearance vehicle then and we certainly didn’t have one now but at times, should have. Rough but fortunately dry, the winding mountain road led us up to Onion Saddle at 7700 feet (2347M). We would return to the intersection here but for now we had reached the high point and began our 5 mile descent, to Pinery Canyon Campground. Which wasn’t really a campground, really just several cleared and flat sections of the lightly forested mountains designated by the Forest Service for primitive camping. We found our semi-private, creekside site at 6000 feet (1829M), pitched our two person tent and put on our bins. Traffic during our time on the road had been very light but as we birded the road, a dusty sedan drew up, stopped and asked what birds we were seeing. Incredibly, this young birder and his friend from Tucson had just left the site for the rare Redstart and were able to give us detailed directions.
We continued walking and birding on the Pinery Horsefall trail, which skirts the edge of our campsite. Most birds were fairly common; a family of Yellow eyed Juncos foraged at water’s edge, two American Robins, several Spotted Towhees and singles of almost everything else, such as, Wood-Pewee, Cordilleran and Dusky-capped Flycatcher, Plumbeous Vireo, Painted Redstart, Acorn Woodpecker. We were alerted by the sharp and loud note of a Hairy Woodpecker, found one Grace’s Warbler and when a hawk winged its way through the trees and called “kek-kek-kek”, we were able to briefly see a Cooper’s Hawk. Turkey Vultures and a Red-tailed Hawk soared above us. We explored until dusk when the Mexican Whip-poor-wills began to sing, one coming very close to camp. With my flashlight, we were able to pick out the eyeshine. Unlike stories of eastern Whips that can make sleeping difficult with non-stop sound, these western versions kept their singing to a reasonable length of time.
 

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