This is a journal of a trip taken by Kate and Jim Frazier to Southeastern Arizona from 7/28/95 through 8/6/95. I have tried to make this a little more informative for birders who have never been there before. For those of you experienced in Arizona, feel free to skim.
All you single male birders out there, take heart. As we were studying flycatchers and warblers and hummingbirds on the plane, one of the flight attendents said "Are you birders?". Turns out she is one of us. We spent the rest of the plane ride chatting with her about birding, nature, etc.
We arrived about 8pm (10pm Chicago time). Just a little hot, but it was a dry heat. Got to the airport Courtyard, got organized and hit the sack.
For all the effort I put into planning this trip before we arrived, it seemed like nothing was organized. We finally got out of the hotel about 8:30am and started up to see if we could find us some Blackhawks.
Our first trip bird was not, for a change, a rock dove or house sparrow...it was a GREAT-TAILED GRACKLE in the parking lot of the hotel. THEN we saw the HOUSE SPARROW.
On the road as we headed up toward Aravaipa Canyon, we saw lots of MOURNING DOVES (this ought to be the state bird of Arizona, if you ask me).
We did manage to pick up BLACK-TAILED GNATCATCHER** along the road (** means a lifer). We kept stopping to check out the TURKEY VULTURES for Zone-tailed Hawk and managed to pick up the gnatcatcher while we were pulled over. We also saw PHAINOPEPLA and ROAD RUNNER.
We drove down Aravaipa Canyon Road to the appropriate spot...no Common Blackhawks. But we did see WHITE-WINGED DOVES, YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT, CACTUS WRENS and BLACK-THROATED SPARROWS as we drove along the road. We were surprised to see PURPLE MARTINS. Back in Chicago, they are associated with areas that have PM houses and are most often seen in areas not too far from human habitation. Out here, we couldn't believe it until we read that the birds nest in the Saguaro cactus. Ok, now it makes sense. We also saw three gray birds with flycatcher bills sitting on the wire that we were convinced were Greater Pewees. We realized they were way out of their habitat and wrote them off as UFO's.
We considered looking for the Streak-backed Oriole. However, when we went over there and reread the hotline transcript and realized that it was a half mile walk in the 110+degree heat (but it's a dry heat) we decided that sun stroke on the first day would bum out the trip.
Tourist note - we ate at Oracle Junction. Nice little cafe there. We also tried to take a look at Biosphere 2 while we were in the vicinity. $12 bucks to get in...decided against it. They also have it set up so that you can't even SEE the silly thing unless you pay the gate.
Since we had an afternoon to burn, we decided to try the drive up to Mount Lemmon. Per the books, this would have given us the opportunity to see different habitats and birds at each stop - from desert to pine forests. As we had been driving around the west and north sides of the Catalina Mountains we had been watching as smoke rose from a wildfire there. Well, just as we pulled up to the entrance to Mt. Lemmon Road, a sheriff closes the road...because of the fire. Ok, let's try Sabino Canyon. The book said it was crowded on the weekends, but we were running out of places to go. We pulled into an ominously empty parking lot and inquired at the quiet visitor center. She said that most people were staying home because of the heat. Again with these wimpy Arizonans! Well, we figured if they couldn't handle it, we certainly weren't going to do any better.
Now what to do?
We drove down to San Xavier Mission which is just south of metropolitan Tucson. We checked out the cemetery up the road to the west of the mission. We looked for reputed Burrowing Owls but could find none. It was about 3pm and extremely hot. My guess is the owls were smarter than us. The cemetery was facinating nevertheless. Lots of bizarre ornaments decorated the graves. We hiked the trail behind the mission (around the east side) and tripped across a little covey of GAMBEL'S QUAIL**. We didn't hike very far...our water gave out in about 10 minutes. But we did find our first GILA WOODPECKER** and our second ROAD RUNNER of the trip.
We stopped in at the Mission and cooled off. The taped lecture was informative, if a little out of date, and the mission's history and architecture were interesting.
We finished up the day by taking the Loop Drive at Saguaro National Park (Rincon Mountain Unit). Wonderful. No lifers but it was very pleasant and very scenic. We started near dusk and finished the road in almost full darkness. No night birds heard, but it was still a delightful jaunt. Of all the habitats that we have become familiar with in our birding travels, I have found the desert to be the most interesting. Birds seen included many CACTUS WRENS, lots of GAMBEL'S QUAIL (including several with sparrow sized fledglings scampering along with mom and dad), BLACK-THROATED SPARROWS, PHAINOPEPLA and GILA WOODPECKERS.
At this point, I'd like to make some comments about resources. We used trip reports and information downloaded off both CompuServe and BirdChat. We also received specific assistance from some friends in the birding forum on CompuServe. All were extremely helpful and gave us some good inside information. We also used two books, Finding Birds in Southeast Arizona by Davis and Russell and the old Lane Guide by Harold Holt (which is being revised and republished almost about now). I found that both books were necessary. Davis and Russell miss some things that are still current in Holt and Holt doesn't have some information that is in Davis and Russell. I found Holt still surprisingly relevant after 6 years. I also found that occasionally Davis and Russell were weak with directions. I usually could find the spot easily if I used both books.
Bottom line, get both books, not just one.
We checked out the morning newspapers but found no word about the fire in the mountains. It's interesting that something like that is not big enough to make the paper but a little heat (but it's a dry heat) rates big headlines.
Off to the Desert Museum. Early morning but it was already broiling (but it was definitely a dry heat). They even had umbrellas that they were lending out to protect from the sun. CACTUS WRENS were all over along with PURPLE MARTINS, BLACK TAILED GNATCATCHERS, WHITE-WINGED and MOURNING DOVES. Kate and I argued about a hummingbird we saw in a bush. I was convinced it was a Broad-tailed Hummingbird but she just didn't believe. We only argue about bird identification - weird marriage.
We went through both aviaries and got good looks at some of the birds we were soon to see, particularly the hummingbirds. We got our lifer BLACK-HEADED GROSBEAK**. He was outside the aviary but we were inside the aviary. Does that count? (G)
It was interesting to watch the GILA WOODPECKERS. They didn't do much more than cling to the shady sides of the Saguaros. Obviously they wanted some shade and that was the best they were going to do out in the desert.
Off for Portal. We decided to be adventurous and go through the mountains from Sulpher Springs Valley, over Onion Saddle in the Chiracahuas and down through Cave Creek to Portal. We found a LOGGERHEAD SHRIKE just 1.5 miles along the Pinery Canyon Road, perched on a wire. We found our first WESTERN WOOD PEWEE** flying and perching over the road at 5.6 miles in. The road also produced GRAY-BREASTED JAY**, BLACK THROATED GRAY WARBLER** and ACORN WOODPECKER. That road heading up from the west to Onion Saddle was not one of my favorite experiences. Just a little too narrow and too many blind curves. The only comfort was that we were on the inside most of the time. I don't think I would have enjoyed coming down at all. Then, you're on the outside. Later, we found out that it can be particularly hairy on weekends when people come down the road after having been drinking up in the parks on top of the mountain. Once we got past Onion Saddle, the road got wider and actually was enjoyable.
I can see why Cave Creek Canyon is so popular, just from a scenic perspective. It's beautiful. Coming down from Onion Saddle, all of a sudden, we were just...in it. Breathtaking.
Portal, for those of you unfamiliar with the area, is a tiny little hamlet that is, well, at the portal of Cave Creek Canyon on the east side of the Chiracahua Mountains.
Tourist note - The Portal Store is the sole merchantile establishment and diner in the vicinity. It has a motel associated with it that is very comfortable, with hummingbird feeders liberally sprinkled around in front of the rooms. The diner does not have much atmosphere, but the customers liven it up and the food is plentiful and good.
After we had checked in, we saw RUFOUS HUMMINGBIRDS** and got into another argument about whether or not that one with the green back was an Allen's. Common sense and the checklist won out and we didn't tick it. Per the checklist, they are pretty rare in Arizona. This Allens/Rufous thing was to be the source of much discussion wherever there were hummingbirders. It seemed that the more conservative birders felt that you could not reliably tell even a male Allen's in the field and that the only way to reliably get one was to go to California or points west. Other, more liberal birders, felt that yes, if it had a solid green back, it was definitely an Allen's.
We checked out the wash just east of the Portal Store and found CANYON TOWHEES**.
Off with David Jasper at 6am.
I got the idea of using Dave when he was mentioned on Birdchat a few months ago. It took a few weeks to simmer but I finally called him a couple of weeks before the trip and engaged him for one of our days in Portal. Let me say that using a local guide is wonderful. In particular, Dave was prompt, personable, extremely expert and had some interesting stories to tell. If you're going to Portal and want a little assistance, especially if it's your first time, you should contact Dave. His phone number is 520-558-2307.
Dave immediately took us out into the lowlands east of Portal where we notched LARK SPARROW, SCALED QUAIL, BLACK-HEADED GROSBEAKS, ASH-THROATED FLYCATCHER**, MOCKINGBIRD, CACTUS WREN, MALLARD (the Mexican kind), nice looks at "blue" BLUE GROSBEAKS and a terrific look at 3 CRISSAL THRASHERS** perched out in the open on a snag.
We headed over toward Rodeo, NM (I don't care about my Arizona state list...yet) and found two SWAINSON'S HAWKS perched on twin telephone poles. One was an immature. Best looks we've ever had of Swainson's. Just as an aside, we've seen Swainson's in our own county here in Illinois. If you look at the Peterson guide and note the pink dot in Illinois for Swainson's Hawk...we live in that pink dot. We're very tiny people.
In the same area, Dave had a BARN OWL** staked out in an actual barn that we got wonderful, lifer looks at. We wound up in Rodeo (a thriving metropolis, compared to Portal) where we found, among the houses, CURVE-BILLED THRASHER, BARN SWALLOW, WESTERN KINGBIRD**, GREAT TAILED GRACKLE, BENDIRE'S THRASHER**, GAMBEL'S and SCALED QUAIL. This is the thing about a guide. He knew places in Rodeo to get these birds, and because he was known there, we weren't greeted with shotguns when we wandered around town looking into yards with binoculars.
Back in the town of Portal, we found SOLITARY VIREO (the plumbeus form), ACORN WOODPECKER, an immature BLUE-THROATED HUMMINGBIRD** that appeared to be having difficulty figuring out how to deal with a large orange flower, BRIDLED TITMICE**, BLACK-CHINNED HUMMINGBIRDS**, BROWN-CRESTED FLYCATCHER**, WHITE-BREASTED NUTHATCH, LUCIFER'S HUMMINGBIRD**, RUFOUS HUMMINGBIRD, VIOLET-CROWNED HUMMINGBIRD**, BLACK-HEADED GROSBEAK and HOODED ORIOLE**. Our thanks to Dave Outerbak (sp?) who is in Jasper's old house and kindly let us spend some time in his yard viewing these birds. He has several feeders in his yard and welcomes birders if the gate is open.
On our way up South Fork, we saw an addition to our life mammal list...a BLACK BEAR loped across the road right in front of us.
As we started walking up the trail from the picnic area at the end of the road, we found HUTTON'S VIREO, a couple of views of immature and very quiet ELEGANT TROGONS**, more BRIDLED TITMICE, several PAINTED REDSTARTS**, a pair of HEPATIC TANAGERS**, several VIRGINIA'S WARBLERS**, a CORDILLERAN FLYCATCHER**, a couple of BLACK-THROATED GRAY WARBLERS, a RED-BREASTED NUTHATCH, a family of CANYON WRENS**, a great look at a RED-FACED WARBLER**, a HERMIT THRUSH and great looks at a family of SULFUR-BELLIED FLYCATCHERS**. We heard no reports of the Berylline Hummingbird so we didn't sit and watch the feeder that Dave had hung in the canyon.
I'm convinced that without Dave's guidance, we would have seen only a fraction of these birds. Few of them were singing and Dave almost sniffed them out.
We had lunch at the store (as we had dinner the night before) and after getting some tips from Dave, wandered around the area on our own for a while. We made a pilgrimage to the Spoffords where things were pretty quiet. We were going back to Outerbak's for, as he called it, the 5 o'clock show, when a storm suddenly came up. We were almost there when the wind started blowing and we figured that maybe we wanted to come back later. We rested up for the night ahead. After dinner, again at the store (I think we went through every item on their menu (G)), we went out for some nightbirds with Jasper. He found us COMMON POORWILL** and WESTERN SCREECH OWL**, both staked out. I felt sorry for a tour that was staying at the lodge at the same time. They dipped except for some interesting reptiles. Again, the value of using a local guide.
Today, we're headed back uphill, to chase some of those mountain birds we haven't gotten yet. Dave Jasper gave us some hints but we're back to being on our own. We started with the road to Paradise (a dirt road that branches from the main road between Portal and the Canyon). This road is reputed to be good for Scott's Oriole and Black-chinned Sparrow. Well, maybe. We saw no orioles and maybe, possibly might have faintly heard a BC Sparrow far up the canyon. But we never saw it or heard it well enough. But the road did turn up more GAMBEL'S QUAIL, BLACK-HEADED GROSBEAKS, WHITE-WINGED DOVES, 2 VIOLET-GREEN SWALLOWS, LARK SPARROWS, and 10 RUFOUS CROWNED SPARROWS near Paradise.
We made it back up to Rustler Park and immediately found YELLOW-EYED JUNCO** at the entrance. Up around the ranger buildings we found an unusual (for us) version of HOUSE WREN and a couple of BROWN CREEPERS. Over near the picnic areas, we found a FLICKER, a HAIRY WOODPECKER, a STELLER'S JAY, COMMON RAVENS, and an annoyingly large number of PYGMY NUTHATCHES that keep getting in the way of the other cool birds we were looking for. We did eventually find an OLIVE WARBLER** (oh, what a case of warbler neck), a couple of MEXICAN CHICKADEES** and a RED-FACED WARBLER.
Ol' Jim here is a very out of shape guy. Just walking up and down a couple of hills killed me up at 8500' Rustler Park. I definitely have to get in shape. Here in Chicago, the altitude is definitely NOT a problem.
We stopped at the Southwest Research Station on our way back down, but found little activity. By this time, it was around noon. We did check out the Outerbak estate one more time and found the same things we had seen the day before. But we mostly went back to make sure we made a contribution to the sugar fund.
We still needed some hawks, so we took the southerly route from Portal through Douglas and Bisbee to Ramsey Canyon. I have read comments about this being an unproductive and dull drive, but we enjoyed it. First of all, it's a nice wide, flat, smooth blacktop road. A nice change of pace from the narrow gravel roads we'd been on. And the scenery was neat. You can really see why they call these mountains the "Sky Islands". You've got desert, then you abruptly have all these mountain ranges. You can stand out in the desert and look around you and see maybe 4 or 5 different ranges at any point. Very neat. Kate, of course, slept most of the way.
We did check every dang TURKEY VULTURE along the way as well. Frequently pulling over and glassing TV's made the drive more entertaining. We did get lucky west of Bisbee. We found a SWAINSON'S HAWK that threw us for a few moments. We saw another vulture that gave us a thrill. He was flying with his wings up like a TV when we saw him being mobbed by a smaller bird. Never having seen a vulture mobbed before, we thought we might have something. We did, but it was not the Zone-tailed. It was a very dark RED-TAILED HAWK.
We arrived at Ramsey Canyon Inn (the B & B outside the entrance to Ramsey Canyon Preserve) just in time to see the evening hummingbird show. The Inn is marvelous! I can't think of a better way to watch hummers than sitting on a nice, covered patio, with a wonderful piece of homemade pie and a glass of iced tea. Sheer delight. That evening we saw BLACK-CHINNED, ANNA'S, MAGNIFICENT**, BROAD-BILLED**, BROAD-TAILED**, BLUE-THROATED** AND RUFOUS HUMMINGBIRDS along with a WHITE-EARED HUMMINGBIRD** that came several times in the course of an hour. And, of course, an ACORN WOODPECKER that seemed to feel that the hummingbird feeders were intended for him.
Have I mentioned how hot it was? But it was an arid sort of heat.
Tourist notes - I was surprised by the setting of Ramsey Canyon. I was expecting a remote outpost similar to Cave Creek. Instead, I find a preserve at the end of a residential road in the suburbs of Sierra Vista. I had figured the cabins at the preserve and the B & B were the only convenient lodging. But you can get from several motels in Sierra Vista to the gates of the preserve in 15 or 20 minutes. Saying that, however, the only place we'll ever stay again, in the area is the Ramsey Canyon Inn. The breakfast is wonderful, the rooms are very pleasant and the hummers are gorgeous. And Shirleen, the owner, bakes a delicious pie every day for her guests. Nearby, the Mesquite Tree is an excellent place for dinner.
What better way to enjoy a wonderful bed and breakfast than to get up at 0-dark-hundred, skip breakfast and return after 9pm, when all the pie is gone?
We met Stuart Healy at Denny's at 5:30am for breakfast and last minute strategizing. Stuart is a guide who also covers southeastern Arizona, but tends to leave the Chiracahuas to David Jasper. Jasper had, of course, made Stuart's job much harder by getting us all those lifers just two days before. Again, if you'll pardon the baldfaced endorsement, Stuart Healy is also an excellent guide. A proper British gent, he has been guiding in the area for several years and seemed to know where everything was and how to find it. As with David, he was prompt, reliable, very interesting to talk to and knew where the good restaurant was for lunch. Stuart's phone number is 520-458-7603.
After fueling up on pancakes and waffles, we headed up Garden Canyon at Fort Huachuca. Fort Huachuca is an Army base nestled in the Huachuca Mountains. For those of you who were weren't fast enought to spot it, the fort was featured in the Tom Clancy movie "Clear and Present Danger." It is an electronic intelligence facility along with a place for folks in camo gear to hang out and make army surplus. (G)
Access is pretty straightforward and not a problem.
We drove up to the top of the Garden Canyon road and hiked up Sawmill Canyon. Yours truly bottomed out the Taurus a couple of times on the washes and dips on this road. More stupidity and inexperience than a real problem with the road.
In Sawmill Canyon, we found BUFF-BREASTED FLYCATCHER**, YELLOW-EYED JUNCOS, WESTERN WOOD-PEWEES, GRAY-BREASTED JAYS (on the way up, not in Sawmill itself), CASSIN'S KINGBIRDS, EASTERN BLUEBIRDS, GREATER PEWEES**, BROWN CREEPERS, RED-BREASTED NUTHATCH, SOLITARY VIREO, COWBIRDS (being fed by the aforementioned vireo), HOUSE WREN, PAINTED REDSTART and Kate, but not Jim, got to see the GRACES WARBLER**. Grrrrrrrrr. I hate when that happens. Wonderful for Kate, but it screws up the bookkeeping. Ah, well, I'm not going to let it ruin the rest of my day...so I'll make sure it ruins the rest of Kate's day...just kidding.
After we finished Sawmill and were standing around in the parking lot, Stuart pointed out a NORTHERN GOSHAWK** flying overhead.
We drove down the road and got a glimpse of an ELEGANT TROGON and several LESSER GOLDFINCHES alongside the road. Then it was up Sheelite Canyon in search of Spotted Owl. Turns out there is this guy named "Smitty" that keeps an eye on these little guys and was staking them out for us and another tour that was due right behind us. After about 5/8 of a mile, we found Smitty and about 20 feet further, we a had wonderful look at a very patient SPOTTED OWL**. The bird was maybe 15 feet in the air and we were about 20 feet away. The only noise was me huffing and puffing from the hike up. Other birds found in the canyon included DUSKY-CAPPED FLYCATCHER**, singing CANYON WREN, GRAY-BREASTED JAY and RUFOUS-SIDED TOWHEE.
We stopped at the grasslands that lie at the approach to Garden Canyon. Here we (I keep saying that...actually, most of the time, it was Stuart) found CURVED-BILLED THRASHER, BARN SWALLOW and BOTTERI'S SPARROW** (singing).
Now we were off around the north end of the Huachucas and down toward Patagonia-Sonoita Sanctuary. We stopped at the Patons and picked up BROAD-BILLED, VIOLET-CROWNED, RUFOUS and ANNA'S HUMMINGBIRDS. Luckily the Patons had generously erected a tent-like canopy where birders could sit and get out of the broiling sun (but it was a parching, desiccating sort of sun).
Then we ate at the Stage Stop restaurant. Not bad. After lunch, we headed back to the Sanctuary and walked the trails finding lots of PHAINOPEPLA, SONG SPARROW, several BLACK-HEADED GROSBEAKS and LESSER GOLDFINCHS, LUCY'S WARBLER, BEWICK'S WREN, THICK-BILLED KINGBIRD**, CASSIN'S KINGBIRD, WESTERN KINGBIRD, VERMILLION FLYCATCHER, BLACK PHOEBE, KESTREL, FLICKER, NORTHERN BEARDLESS TYRANNULET** and a WESTERN TANAGER**! This is a bird that Kate has been waiting to see since a trip to Cape May last September when I saw it, and Jim Bangma saw it, but poor Kate didn't.
We were surprised by the amount of avian activity going on at 2:30 in the afternoon. There wasn't exactly a dawn chorus going but we had no trouble at all finding birds to look at.
The heat (did I mention it was a little warmer than usual?) finally got to my beautiful, desert flower, Kate (I have to say that kind of stuff, she proofreads this). She started feeling kind of light-headed just as we were finishing up at the Sanctuary and since we were nearing the end of the day, her timing could not have been much better. No more walking stops though.
We visited Kino Springs. This is a golf course near Nogales. They have a couple of ponds on the property which attract a respectable amount of birds since open water is so scarce in the area. We started at the pond just west of the clubhouse where we had nice looks at a GRAY HAWK**, TROPICAL KINGBIRD**, more VERMILLION FLYCATCHERS, COOTS, BLACK-BELLIED WHISTLING DUCK and FLICKER. At the pond nearer the entrance, we searched for Abert's Towhee but were unsuccessful. We did find COMMON GROUND DOVE, BLACK PHOEBE, LUCY'S WARLBER, YELLOW BILLED CUCKOO, BEWICK'S WREN, BROWN-CRESTED FLYCATCHER and VERMILLION FLYCATCHER.
We checked out the grasslands along the entrance road to Patagonia State Park and got good looks at a BOTTERI'S SPARROW.
On to the Patagonia Picnic Table where we found WHITE-THROATED SWIFTS**. Oh, yeah, and ROSE-THROATED BECARD**. Stuart had to work hard for that one. We also had an assist from a merry band of Swedish birders that had been dogging us since the Chirachuas. The Becard was so cooperative, we actually wound up walking away from it, which Stuart said was pretty unusual.
We managed to check out lots of TURKEY VULTURES all day, but no Zone-tailed Hawk.
Basking in a becardy kind of glow, we headed back towards Fort Huachuca for some night birding (Stuart has a night pass). On the way we found LESSER NIGHTHAWKS** flying near Route 82. Once back inside the fort, we headed up Garden Canyon and stopped at the picnic area just before the road turns to gravel. There we snacked on some leftovers, drank Gatorade and listened. We could hear both a WHIP-POOR-WILL and COMMON POORWILL, both very clearly. And a WHISKERED SCREECH-OWL** showed up promptly with a little whistled coaxing. Man, I wish we had an easier screech-owl to imitate here in the east. Those western birds are easy.
We finished up an exhausting day back at the Sierra Vista Denny's and saw more LESSER NIGHTHAWKS in the parking lot.
We took a break today. We wanted to sample the breakfast at the Inn, sleep in a little and take a breather from the heat. Besides, those darned guides want to get up so danged early.
We enjoyed the breakfast immensely, sat around, updated our journals and watched birds from the patio - CALLIOPE, BLACK-CHINNED, ANNA'S, MAGNIFICENT, BROAD-BILLED and WHITE-EARED HUMMINGBIRDS, STRICKLANDS WOODPECKERS** (nesting in a sycamore at the edge of the parking lot), ACORN WOODPECKERS, and GRAY-BREASTED JAYS. Those Black-chinned were feisty little suckers.
In the afternoon, we were still burnt out by the heat (get it, yuk, yuk) but we decided to follow Stuart Healy's advice and chase Abert's Towhee down at San Pedro House in the Riparian Area. It was extremely toasty - but a burnt, blackened, dry kind of toasty. BLUE GROSBEAKS were in the yard of San Pedro House. We walked across this large, sunny field to the river and ran into a tour coming up from further south. We asked about Abert's and they said they had seen several, more than expected. We were already worn out and sat on a log in some shade. Sure enough, a couple of ABERT'S TOWHEES made themselves evident. While we were waiting, we also saw a male SUMMER TANAGER, LESSER GOLDFINCH, VERMILLION FLYCATCHER, CANYON TOWHEE, CASSIN'S KINGBIRD and Kate saw a GREEN HERON.
Not bad, again for about 3pm.
As we were standing in the gift shop contributing to the local economy, a bus full of soldiers pulled up. After loafing in the parking lot for a while, they all hiked off down the path toward the river. No equipment of any kind - no humvees, tanks or air cover - just the odd waterbottle carried like a casual hiker. We couldn't figure what the heck they were doing.
I envisioned a sergeant major: "Alright troopers, this is a Vermillion Flycatcher. It can be your friend, if you'll let it. Now, let's see if we can identify this here swallowtail. No, trooper, you're wrong...it's the double tailed tiger swallowtail. Drop and give me 50! Now maybe the rest of you men will pay more attention in nature appreciation drills. Your life may depend on it! Hoorah! Now, let's have a look at these sedges..."
I think the heat was getting to me. Did I mention it was hot?
We still had some time to kill before the show back at the Inn, so we indulged my lifelong dream of visiting Tombstone. Never mind.
But, on a positive note, I had stopped to take some scenic pictures on the way to Tombstone and as I was walking back across the road, I clearly heard a CASSIN'S SPARROW**. Kate got out of the car, we searched the grass and there was the little guy, singing away in clear view.
We got back to the inn by 5:30 and settled in for the show - MAGNIFICENT, RUFOUS, BLACK-CHINNED, BLUE-THROATED, WHITE-EARED, BROAD-TAILED, ANNA'S and CALLIOPE HUMMINGBIRDS. Whew!
The White-eared was coming by every 10 minutes or so.
So much for our day off.
Tourist note - We ate dinner at the Outside Inn, another good place.
We birded along the road leading up to the Inn and the gates to the preserve this morning, before breakfast - WESTERN WOOD-PEWEE, ACORN WOODPECKER, a BLACK PHOEBE bathing in a puddle of water at the stream ford, a PAINTED REDSTART, couple of BLACK-HEADED GROSBEAKS and a CASSIN'S KINGBIRD. But the highlight was watching a COOPER'S HAWK (immature female?) that flew in over the ford and perched in a tree. She kept constantly checking things out...below, above and all around. We thought she was looking for breakfast when all of a sudden she flew down and started drinking out of the puddle. She kept stepping back after a few sips and looking around some more. Then, the kingbird noticed her and the whole neighborhood was in an uproar. She flew from tree to tree with outraged passerines on her tail. Now we realized what she was looking for...she was hoping for a drink with some piece and quiet.
Back in the yard of the Inn, we had an immature STRICKLAND'S WOODPECKER and the resident ACORN WOODPECKER.
After another delicious breakfast, we walked into Ramsey Canyon...finally, after 3 days at the Inn. In the preserve, we saw WHITE-BREASTED NUTHATCH, TURKEYS (are these really wild or introduced?), CANYON WREN, PAINTED REDSTART, WESTERN WOOD-PEWEE, TURKEY VULTURE, more STRICKLAND'S WOODPECKERS above the frog pond, GRAY-BREASTED JAY, good looks at HUTTON'S VIREOS, ACORN WOODPECKER, BRIDLED TITMICE, BLACK-HEADED GROSBEAK, YELLOW WARBLER, DUSKY-CAPPED FLYCATCHER, BROAD-TAILED and ANNA'S HUMMINGBIRDS.
Off to Madera Canyon...the long way. We wanted to check out a report from that merry band of Swedish birders of a Zone-tailed Hawk at Patagonia State Park. We also wanted to visit Paton's one more time and get better looks at the Violet-crowned Hummingbirds. Our first stop was there and we picked up CLIFF SWALLOWS, PHAINOPEPLA, BROAD-BILLED, VIOLET-CROWNED and BLACK-CHINNED HUMMINGBIRDS. We stopped at Patagonia State Park and enjoyed views of many TURKEY VULTURES.
Stuart gave us directions for a good spot to find Rufous-winged sparrows so, even though it was afternoon, we thought we would scope it out in anticipation of an early return visit tomorrow. In the area (along Pendleton near Interstate 19) were ROADRUNNER (our third of the trip), GAMBEL'S QUAIL, FLICKER, PHAINOPEPLA, WHITE-WINGED DOVE and VERDIN.
We arrived at Madera Canyon and checked into the Santa Rita Lodge where we saw GRAY-BREASTED JAY, PAINTED REDSTART, MAGNIFICENT and BLACK-CHINNED HUMMINGBIRDS and BRIDLED TITMICE. We read that Rufous-crowned Sparrows can be found in the grasslands between Madera and Greene Valley, so we birded our way back to Greene Valley for dinner. We found RED-TAILED HAWK, COOPER'S HAWK, LARK SPARROW, ROAD RUNNER (our fourth of the trip), CANYON TOWHEE, WESTERN KINGBIRD, BLUE GROSBEAK, LESSER NIGHTHAWKS (very good looks), BLACK-THROATED SPARROW and we heard a RUFOUS-WINGED SPARROW.
Tourist Note - Evidently Greene Valley is a big retirement community. We ate at the Arizona Family Restaurant and I was taken aback when we pulled into the parking lot and saw more big cars in one place than I have ever seen, outside of a Cadillac or Lincoln dealer. I felt very inadequate parking our dirty tiny little Taurus beside all these gleaming behemoths. When we went inside, we were greated to jazzy beautiful music (if there is such a thing) being played by a hipster on an electric piano. It was like combining the lounge of a Holiday Inn at an AARP convention with a very nice Denny's. I swear we were the youngest people in the place, except for the the staff. Everyone knew each other and there was this weird feeling that, if we had ever looked like tourists on this trip, this was the time.
I realized that I had booked us a while back on a field trip that the lodge sponsored for this morning. We couldn't blow it off since we had already paid for it. That left us no time to go down to Pendleton Road to search for the RUFOUS-WINGED SPARROW**. And we really wanted to do more than just hear it. We drove back to the point on the road to Greene Valley where we heard it the night before (0.38 miles west of mile marker 2) and got out of the car and listened. Sure enough, there were at least two birds singing and they finally showed themselves and gave us reasonably good looks.
We sped back up the canyon just in time to meet the bird walk led by Carol De Waade. It was 6:30am. She took us up the trail that leads from the upper parking lots...on the map it says Vault Mine Trail. We heard or saw MAGNIFICENT HUMMINGBIRD, ACORN WOODPECKER, FLICKER, WESTERN WOOD-PEWEE, DUSKY-CAPPED FLYCATCHER, SULPHUR BELLIED FLYCATCHER, GRAY-BREASTED JAY, BRIDLED TITMICE, HERMIT THRUSH, SOLITARY and HUTTON'S VIREOS, BLACK-THROATED GRAY and RED-FACED WARBLERS, PAINTED REDSTART, BLACK-HEADED GORSBEAK, RUFOUS-SIDED TOWHEE and, a bird that we didn't expect, a LAZULI BUNTING**. That made the field trip and the hiking worthwhile. Back at the feeders at the gift shop and Santa Rita Lodge, we picked up BROAD-BILLED, BLUE-THROATED, MAGNIFICENT, BLACK-CHINNED and RUFOUS HUMMINGBIRDS.
By this time, it was a little after noon and we expected to meet a CompuServe birding buddy, Glenn Czulada, at 2pm so we set the alarm and took naps.
Glenn and his friend, Jim, promptly showed up at about 2, and they immediately got a few lifers. There wasn't much going on at the time, so we just hiked the nature trail and the road a little.
They wanted to see what the road up the canyon looked like so we piled into their car and headed up. Unfortunately there were lots of Saturday picnickers up there and the afternoon doldrums were at their peak...no birds. I really didn't feel like going back up Vault Mine Trail, not since they'd probably get anything that was likely elsewhere in the next few days.
Suddenly, lighting struck very, very, very close. I jump up and skedaddle for the car. First time on the trip I was in front of the pack! They dropped us off back at Santa Rita Lodge and headed off for Florida Wash and Box Canyon.
We changed our plans, checked out and headed back to Tucson. We wanted to hit some things we missed there last weekend and figured being in Tucson would be better than being all the way out in Madera Canyon. Plus I just couldn't deal with the Arizona Family Restaurant for dinner again.
What to do? What to do? There we were, back in Tucson and we had a couple of options. We could go up to Dudleyville and sit and wait for the Streaked-backed Oriole. From what we'd heard, we'd be in for a long wait until the female decided to leave the nest. Then, we'd get a quick glimpse of her leaving, wait around more for her to return, then get a quick glimpse of her going back into the nest. Didn't sound like very satisfying looks for the time invested. Hmmm, let's think of a quality birding experience.
The next option was to go back up and see if we could find the Black-hawk again. Nope.
The other option was to try Mt. Lemmon again. We were still looking for Scott's Oriole. We had glimpses of what were probably Scott's, but not looks good enough to tick. The closest we got were some female orioles, but they were flying. And, I still needed Grace's Warbler. It wasn't going to bug me too much if we left Arizona with Kate having it and me not. Besides, Mt. Lemmon is supposedly a pretty drive.
OK, Mt. Lemmon it was.
For those of you unfamiliar, Mt. Lemmon Road starts at the base of the Santa Catalina mountains in the suburbs of Tucson. It is desert at the base and you rise for about 25 miles through several different life-zones until you wind up at the top in boreal type forest. You essentially drive from Arizona to Canada in about an hour. It's like taking the grand tour of habitats, with stops at each one - lots of birding opportunities.
It certainly was a pretty drive. There are many turnouts, scenic overlooks and picnic areas. Our first bird, right at the entrance to the road was...a ROAD RUNNER (our fifth of the trip). We made our first stop at Molino Basin where we picked up BEWICK'S WREN, CACTUS and CANYON WREN, GAMBEL'S QUAIL, CANYON TOWHEE, GILA WOODPECKER, BLACK-HEADED GROSBEAK and BELL'S VIREO. On the road, we saw ACORN WOODPECKER.
Bear Canyon...yes! This is a neat picnic area with towering pine trees and no undergrowth...just a carpet of pine needles. We found several WESTERN BLUEBIRDS, many WHITE-BREASTED and PYGMY NUTHATCHES, a RUFOUS-SIDED TOWHEE, a couple of PAINTED REDSTARTS and YELLOW-EYED JUNCOS, a BLACK-THROATED GRAY WARBLER, a couple of BLACK-HEADED GROSBEAKS, a non-male WESTERN TANAGER and....GRACE'S WARBLER!! Not only did we find Jim one, we got Kate better looks and we got to see mom and dad dealing with some hungry kids. At one point, we saw what appeared to be the female working her way up a branch of a pine and then stopping in the middle of a hunk of pine needles. I would swear (anthropomorphization alert!) that she was hiding from the kids and trying to get a little rest. She stayed there for a pretty long time, for a warbler.
After enjoying the location for a while, we checked the time (had a plane to catch, you know) and decided we'd better scramble for the top. Now, we just wanted to enjoy the drive and the scenery. After a couple of more look-out stops we reached the top, turned around and came down.
When we arrived at the airport, they announced the flight was full and they were looking for people to give up their seats. We figured we'd hold out for a bigger payoff, but they found some suckers. While we were seated and waiting for takeoff, we noticed an unusual amount of activity and head counting. I also noticed empty seats. Just then the pilot comes on and announces that because it is SOOOOOO hot, the engines don't work really well...complicated by the 3000 foot altitude. Evidently, jet engines don't care about dry heat. So they're being really careful to make sure they have just the right weight. For just a moment, I thought...do they know how much they have, just in seat 12b? It was a long roll down the runway, but we managed to get off the ground before we found a quicker way up to Mt. Lemmon.
A friend of mine is a pilot and I mentioned it to him the next day. He said "Oh, yeah. Taking off from Tucson in the summer can sometimes be very interesting."
Something to keep in mind for next time. Maybe we drive.
Final stats: 129 trip birds, 60 lifers.
The Phoebes are awards that we hand out to those deserving birds that have been the highlights of our trips.
Drum roll please.....
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