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offshorebirder
Posted (edited)

I am just back from a wonderful safari in Arizona.   The birds and mammals cooperated pretty well.  It was also nice to have a mini-get together with @Atdahl and his wife Karen who are wonderful people that kindly shared their knowledge about southwestern critters.

 

* If anyone is curious about Arizona or would like advice for planning their own safari, send me a private message and I will gladly share info and advice.

 

I may only have time to post a few teaser photos and our itinerary, since I am off to Hatteras North Carolina day after tomorrow for a few days offshore in the Gulf Stream.  I will continue the report next week.

 

Behavior-wise, my most treasured sighting was a female Pronghorn at Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge chasing three apparently young Coyotes away from an area near a small cattail marsh.  The refuge biologist said she almost certainly had fawns stashed nearby - they always hide them within 1/4 mile of a water source.  We had good luck on owls and nightbirds, good luck on mammals and excellent luck on birds.  We kept running into the same bird tour groups and before long, the guides were using my friend Roger and me as a central information "billboard".

 

Pronghorn male (this herd seemed to be between their winter coat and the new one growing in for the spring).  Did you know that Pronghorn are not really antelope, but Giraffoidea - more closely related to Giraffe and Opaki?

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This Yellow-eyed Junco was gathering nesting material (dead grasses) near Reef Campground at 7200 feet near the top of Carr Canyon in the Huachuca Mountains.

 

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This White-nosed Coati came around a bend in the trail while we were standing still and quietly looking for a pair of Rufous-capped Warblers (a rare vagrant from Mexico and Central America).   Startled, it ran up a tree to observe us and decide what to do.  After a bit, it deemed it safe, came down and scuttled away.   Sorry for the strong backlighting and vegetation in the way - so it goes.

 

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This Painted Redstart, a warbler which only occurs in the USA in high mountain habitats in a handful of locations in southeast Arizona, went from flycatching and feeding to full-on frantic nest construction in an instant.  It started landing at our feet and gathering nesting material, then taking a circuitous route to and from the nest location.   We alerted a nearby bird tour and they were delighted to join us and watch the show.

 

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Desert Cottontail rabbit - a close cousin of the Eastern Cottontail, which also occurs in Southeast Arizona.   They are very similar but there are a couple of key field marks.   One is the larger ears - for dumping heat, since the Desert Cottontail lives in hotter, lower, more arid climates that Easterns do in AZ.   @kittykat23uk - we had good luck with rabbits and hares, so stay tuned!

 

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Red-face Warbler at Comfort Springs near the top of Carr Canyon in the Huachuca Mountains.  This warbler is another that only occurs in the USA in wet forested areas at even higher elevations in the "Sky Islands" of Southeast Arizona.     Unfortunately all my shots ended up having branches or twigs partially obscuring the bird...

 

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Itinerary and field activities:

 

May  2 - Arrive Tucson, rent vehicle, shop for supplies, head for Patagonia (AirBNB rental).

May  3 - Patagonia area birding (Paton Center, Roadside Rest, Nature Conservancy's Patagonia-Sonoita Preserve, Patagonia Lake State Park).

May  4 - De Anza Trail near Tubac, Buenos Aires NWR, California Gulch afternoon and after dark.  Overnight Green Valley (motel).

May  5 - Madera Canyon area, meet up with @Atdahl and his wife.  Overnight in Hereford (VRBO rental).

May  6 - Hunter Canyon morning, Ramsey Canyon afternoon.  Overnight in Hereford (VRBO rental).

May  7 - Carr Canyon morning, San Pedro National Riparian Conservation Area afternoon.  Hereford owling & mammals after dark.  Overnight in Hereford (VRBO rental).

May  8 - Carr Canyon morning, drive to Portal and bird/explore afternoon.   Overnight Cave Creek Ranch.

May  9 - Chiricahua mountains - S Fork Cave Creek, SWRS area, high Chiricahuas (Barfoot, Rustler, etc), Pinery Canyon, night owling Herb Martyr Road.  Overnight Cave Creek Ranch.

May 10 - George Walker House, E. Turkey Creek, Pinery Canyon, owling at CC Ranch.  Overnight Cave Creek Ranch.

May 11 - Stateline Road, Sunny Flats campground, S. Fork Cave Creek, CC Ranch morning.  Willcox Playa on way to Tucson.  Overnight Tucson motel.

May 12 - fly home.

 

Edited by offshorebirder

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kittykat23uk

Ooh nice cottontail! I'm looking forward to seeing more bunnies and jackrabbits! 

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Caracal

That is a most enticing teaser @offshorebirder with splendid photos.

 

Am interested to learn what a cattail marsh is ?

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offshorebirder

Thanks @kittykat23uk and @Caracal.

 

@Caracal - I meant a wetland area where the cover consists of Cattails = Typha species.

 

 

 

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Atravelynn

I never thought of the words Arizona and safari together.  Well done!  Great shots.

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Caracal

 

I see clearly now - Cattails is what we call Bulrush.

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Atdahl

@offshorebirder, it was a pleasure meeting up with you for a morning.  Too bad we spent most of the time talking as opposed to seeing anything really special :).  I had hoped that the Trogon would show itself.  Of course, it was spotted the next day by others according to ebird reports.  

 

I am glad that you had a good trip and you certainly have already shared some great photos.  I really like that White-nosed Coati pic since it shows off it's face so well.  They are one of our more exotic mammals so we are very pleased that you saw them at multiple locations and we saw our first in Madera Canyon.

 

Speaking of rabbits and hares, when you come back someday we will go find the great Antelope Jackrabbit for you.  It's quite impressive.

 

I look forward to reading and seeing what other critters you saw on your safari down here.

 

Alan

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gatoratlarge

Always wanted to see a pronghorn---great pics!

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kittykat23uk
4 hours ago, Atdahl said:

 

 

Speaking of rabbits and hares, when you come back someday we will go find the great Antelope Jackrabbit for you.  It's quite impressive.

 

I look forward to reading and seeing what other critters you saw on your safari down here.

 

Alan

 

I would love to see the Antelope Jackrabbit! (almost as much as a Volcano Rabbit or a Striped Rabbit). 

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offshorebirder

Maybe we should think about a Safaritalk Arizona safari, @kittykat23uk.   Wonder if there would be much interest?

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Atravelynn
2 hours ago, offshorebirder said:

Maybe we should think about a Safaritalk Arizona safari, @kittykat23uk.   Wonder if there would be much interest?

I'd be interested.

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mapumbo

Fantastic photos @offshorebirder, looking forward to more.

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Atdahl

We are game for an ST Arizona Safari.  We can even BBQ at our house, where the beer is always cold...:)

 

Alan

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kittykat23uk

Sounds great to me!

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gatoratlarge

But did you spot the elusive "jackalope"?? :D

 

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marg

@offshorebirder...any comments or discussion about the change in bird numbers because of warming while you were there?

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offshorebirder

@marg - there was some discussion about "fewer X" than usual.   But most of the discussion was about changing timing - or "phenology" as biologists would say.    Timing of migrating songbirds and shorebirds.  Timing of Mexican Chickadees moving up to their summer homes.  Timing of Elegant Trogons and Sulphur-bellied Flycatchers returning to their riparian breeding spots.

 

We saw good numbers of migrant warblers, flycatchers, tanagers, orioles and other songbirds.   I had been worried before the trip that with migration happening earlier than 10-20 years ago, that the good migration action would have passed by the time our May 2 - 12 visit arrived.  Thankfully that was not the case. 

 

Owl sightings for us were fewer compared to normal, and there did seem to be fewer Yellow-eyed Juncos in the high mountain breeding areas and fewer sparrows in the Altar Valley than I would expect, especially coming off a nice wet winter.   

 

But I was pleased by how many Empidonax Flycatchers we saw.  Good numbers of Myiarchus Flycatchers as well. 

 

 

 

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mapumbo

@offshorebirder We visited Patagonia and the Patagonia State Park in Arizona a number of years ago and I tried to talk Mama Ndege into spending our winters there when we retire but I didn't have much luck.  I like that area.

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offshorebirder

This trip to Arizona was originally planned as part of my friend Ben Mugambi's visit to the USA.  As many of you know, Ben is a Kenyan safari guide and owner of Ben's Ecological Adventures who has booked trips and guided for me, sometimes on short notice.   Unfortunately, Ben was unable to make it in time for our late April and May plans and reservations.  He had to renew his passport before applying for a USA Visa, and started the process very early.   But the Kenyan government just changed their passports with additional security features, biometrics, etc.  I have heard other recent horror stories where renewals take months longer than usual.  So Ben's Kenyan passport renewal came through too late for Ben to get his guest visa in time.

 

Nevertheless, our friend Roger Smith and I pressed on - we were all worked up in anticipation of Arizona critters, habitats and landscapes.  And some of our reservations did not have full refunds at that point. 

 

Oddly enough, there was a cold snap happening for most of our time in southeast Arizona.  And we had some cloudy days to contend with photographically.  It grew cold at night in most of the places we stayed, particularly those above 5,000 feet.   Daytime high temperatures were on the cool side as well - high 60s and 70s.  So we saw fewer reptiles and butterflies than normal for that time of year.  But with the cooler weather, bird activity continued into late morning and even after noon, which is usually not the case with higher temperatures.  

 

On May 2 after flying into Tucson on different airlines, we hit Hertz car rentals and picked up an all-wheel-drive SUV.  We had to settle for a KIA instead of a 4x4 Jeep Grand Cherokee because the previous renter chose to extend their rental without notice.  But the Kia would be adequate for California Gulch now that conditions were drying out.

 

Then we hit a couple of grocery stores, and the big beer and wine store for lots of American Microbrew beers, then on the road to Patagonia, Arizona!

 

We were admiring all the trees and wildflowers still in bloom after the abundant winter rains (first time in years).  We were traveling south on Highway 83, a little over a mile and a half north of Sonoita, Arizona.  Lo and behold, Roger spotted the white rumps of a herd of Pronghorn!

 

They had been feeding fairly close to the road, but were beginning to move back toward more cover.  

 

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They began giving us "butt shots" - rear photo views.  So I crept along the roadside to draw parallel with them, and used a Mesquite limb and trunk to balance my hastily assembled camera and lens.

 

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After admiring the Pronghorn a little longer, we got back on the road and almost immediately took a hard look at a funny looking Turkey Vulture.   Sure enough, it turned out to be a Zone-tailed Hawk - a raptor that closely resembles a soaring Turkey Vulture.   It is thought this may help them surprise their prey - mammals, birds and lizards.  Zone-tails are sought after by birders visiting the southwest USA.  

 

We were not yet to Patagonia and already super pleased with our sightings!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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offshorebirder
37 minutes ago, mapumbo said:

@offshorebirder We visited Patagonia and the Patagonia State Park in Arizona a number of years ago and I tried to talk Mama Ndege into spending our winters there when we retire but I didn't have much luck.  I like that area.

 

@mapumbo - I love southeast Arizona in late fall and winter maybe even more than spring or summer.  As you know, the sparrows are incredible and raptors are also diverse and plentiful.  And rare stuff like Aztec Thrush, Clay-colored Robin, Eared Quetzal, etc. show up in late fall and winter.  

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