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offshorebirder

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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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 peopl

May 8 - Carr Canyon and Portal, Arizona. Birding action - particularly migrants - was so good in upper Carr Canyon the day before, we decided to return for our last activity in the Huachuca Moun

May 7 - Carr Canyon and the San Pedro River    For the morning of May 7, we decided to explore good habitats along the upper reaches of Carr Canyon Road.  This is the only road that provides

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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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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 Safaris 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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offshorebirder

After we arrived in Patagonia around 3:30pm, we dumped our luggage, unpacked the cooler into the freezer and fridge and went birding.  We did so by walking down Blue Heaven Road, toward the Paton Center.   That is the former residence of Marion and Wally Paton, who opened their property to birders who were straining to see the rare hummingbirds at their nectar feeders back in the early 1970s and into the 2000s.   The habitat along Sonoita Creek is next to the Nature Conservancy's preserve and is great for birds, mammals, reptiles, butterflies and more.  

 

Sorry, no photos from that afternoon - I was more about getting tuned back into the sights and sounds and appreciating it without the hassle of photography.  There were three warblers present: Lucy's, Yellow and Wilson's.  The gray Lucy's was not as vivid as Yellow and Wilson's Warblers, but Roger and I were more interested in learning them and especially their "chip note" vocalization.  We see plenty of Yellow Warblers and a few Wilson's Warblers in the east but not Lucy's.  
 

We also heard multiple Bell's Vireos, Yellow-breasted Chats, Summer Tanagers and House Wrens on our short walk before encountering many more species at the Paton Center.  There were also Rock Squirrels and some small mouselike creature that went unidentified.  


After sorting through hummingbirds (Violet-crowned, Broad-billed, Black-chinned, Rivoli's, Costa's) and enjoying Inca Doves, White-crowned Sparrows and Gambel's Quail, we birded our way on foot down Blue Heaven Road along the border of the preserve.  The birding was great and eventually we started to think about how hungry we were, and birded our way back home for a beer and supper.

 

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It was a chilly start to May 3 and an early one as well, sunrise is at 5:30am in Arizona this time of year.  We made it to the Paton Center well after that and birding was a bit slow.  We were talking with a friendly young gentleman from Connecticut and all decided to head over to the Patagonia-Sonoita Preserve.  

 

One of the first birds we saw - Violet-crowned Hummingbird - is high on the wish lists of visiting birders.  It was fun to watch a female feeding at Desert Honeysuckle flowers.   

 

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We also saw several Broad-billed Hummingbirds, named for their flat Swordfish-like bills.  And Rivoli's Hummingbirds, whose new name I do not prefer to the previous "Magnificent Hummingbird".  

 

Broad-billed Hummingbird

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Other goodies included multiple Vermilion Flycatchers, Ash-throated Flycatchers, Black-throated Gray + Townsend's Warblers, Summer and Western Tanagers, Warbling and Plumbeous Vireos, Bullock's Orioles and plentiful Black-headed Grosbeaks.


Then after watching a small herd of Coues White-tailed Deer, we saw some Collared Peccaries on a forest trail!   


At first they were in thick cover


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Then they got brave and dashed across the trail


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Later they hustled across a footpath mown in some tall grass to another wooded area.  


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Conditions were getting warmer so we decided to tear ourselves away from the preserve and stop at the famous Patagonia Roadside Rest area before lunch.   In addition to general good birding and naturalizing, our target was Thick-billed Kingbird - you guessed it, a rare central american bird that has the extreme north of its breeding range in southeast Arizona.  


We missed seeing the Kingbird but did enjoy seeing a Brown-crested Flycatcher diving for what looked like a moth.  


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And when we explored the footpath between the rest area and Sonoita Creek, we found a pair of Brown-crested Flycatchers building a nest in a cavity in a big Sycamore tree by the creek.

 

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Then we saw more of the same birds already mentioned and it was time to head back for lunch.   Afterwards I hit the general store around the corner for some cough syrup - I was still in the throes of a bad cold virus that Roger would later catch.   I was hoping the cough syrup would help me sleep better than I had been the past couple of nights.


That afternoon we started at the Patons and saw a Curve-billed Thrasher collecting nesting material and building a nest in a bush.


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Nesting was becoming the theme of our visit!


After that I went into "no photo mode" for a while, so I will end this post here.   


 

 


 

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offshorebirder

 

I had initially planned to start Day Two at Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge, for mammals and skulking sparrows.  But according to the birding grapevine, a pair of Rose-throated Becards was in the process of building a nest beside the Santa Cruz River, along the De Anza Trail near Tubac.   That was right on our way to BANWR from Patagonia, so Roger and I decided to start with the Becards.   They are neat birds and only a few of them breed north of the U.S.-Mexico border any given year.  We realized that this pair was probably the most reliable of their species to see in North America this spring.  

 

We ended up seeing them, but the views and lighting were not good at all.  No usable photos unfortunately.  

 

So we hurried to Arivaca, a small little town not far from the Mexican border, then west and south to the main refuge entrance.  It was very windy, which was not to our advantage with either birds or mammals.  

 

Nevertheless, the gorgeous scenery during the drive there on West Arivaca Road was a real treat.  Especially seeing the Baboquivari mountains rising from the surrounding Altar Valley.
 

Baboquivari Peak Wilderness

 

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As we pulled in to the refuge entrance, a Black-tailed Jackrabbit dashed into cover from beside the road.  But at least a male Vermilion Flycatcher sitting on a post lingered for us to admire.

 

Vermilion Flycatcher

 

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As I turned to get back into the car, I was struck by the grassland scene before me:

 

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And sprouting from the margins was a pretty little bunch of flowers:

 

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Birds were active along the entrance road; we saw Red-tailed Hawk, Eastern Meadowlark, Horned Lark, Loggerhead Shrike, American Kestrel, Western Kingbird, Ash-throated Flycatcher, Lucy's Warbler, and Rufous-winged Sparrow among others. 

 

Then as we approached a crossroads on the way to the refuge headquarters, we stopped to observe small flocks of birds congregating at a willow-lined freshwater marsh with a little bit of open water and several acres of cattail reeds.  Then I spotted a Coyote off to the right, coursing back and forth through the grass as if it was hunting. By now, the heat shimmer was getting fierce.

 

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Suddenly, a female Pronghorn charged in and caused the Coyote to flee.   A male Pronghorn followed up with another Coyote not far away.   We think the Coyotes were youngsters - due to their slight build and also their confused reactions to the Pronghorn aggression.  Then the female Pronghorn chased a third Coyote away from the general area.   

 

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Then we drove to the refuge headquarters and visitor's center and talked with a volunteer about what we had seen.   He said the female almost certainly had fawns stashed nearby - that according to the refuge biologists, female Pronghorns hide their fawns within 1/4 mile of a water source.  We talked to the gentleman about current road and habitat conditions as well as security - no worries regarding the latter.  


We headed out and started down Pronghorn Drive, a dirt road looping several miles through good Pronghorn habitat.   We continued to see more interesting cacti and gorgeous flowers, then some Coues' White=tailed Deer - but in terrible light and worse heat shimmer.

 

Coues' White-tailed Deer

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Mexican Gold Poppies

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Teddy Bear Cholla cactus

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Cane Cholla cactus with developing fruit

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Prickly Pear cactus in flower

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Then we saw a distant herd of Pronghorn in an area with rolling hills.   Years ago, in the same area I had seen a herd of Pronghorn take fright and accelerate marvelously.  I will never forget the way they flowed over the ground as if suspended on a magnetic field.


Then in a rocky area, we saw a Desert Spiny Lizard - thanks to @Atdahl for the ID.

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Then we came across a thicket of a little prickly bush I remembered seeing in the Patagonia-Sonoita Preserve.  Its leaves vaguely reminded me of Viburnum species back east - particularly Viburnum obovatum.

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Palo Verde tree in bloom

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Then we got to some really nice grassland habitat and started finding Botteri's Sparrows singing.   Botteri's and the even more elusive Cassin's Sparrows normally sing, defend territories and breed during the "second spring" - or the midsummer monsoon season when ample rains come to southeast Arizona.   But in springtime following a good wet winter (which was the case this past winter), both these shy sparrows will sing in April and early May.  So we were lucky to encounter them.

 

Cassin's Sparrow singing while hidden in a Mesquite tree.   Be sure to increase the resolution and crank up your volume to hear it.

 

 

 

 

Once we passed noon, it began getting quite hot despite the wind.  Bird and mammal activity dried up.  So we bid goodbye to BANWR and drove to Arivaca for lunch.  

 

Arivaca is a wonderful little town - half cowboys, half hippies and artists who get along well and live and let live.  We dined at one of my favorite bar and restaurants in the world - La Gitana Cantina.  Some sort of event was going on, with music and lots of people filling the building and courtyard.   We managed to order our sandwiches and get a table inside by a window, relaxing in the cool surroundings.   After snagging a souvenir T-Shirt, I chatted with some of the staff in English and Spanish, inquiring about locals that I know.   

 

Then Roger and I took the opportunity to go check into our lodgings in Green Valley, before heading down Ruby Road and California Gulch, right down to the Mexican border.   I will continue with the afternoon and nocturnal part of the day in the next post.

 

 

 

Edited by offshorebirder
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Atdahl

That was an action packed morning Nate.  The pronghorn and coyote behavior sounds very interesting and it makes sense that a fawn or two was nearby.

 

I am pretty sure the lizard is a Desert Spiny Lizard. 

 

Looking forward to see how your afternoon and evening went so keep it coming :).

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offshorebirder

Thanks @Atdahl - I made the correction with an edit.

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offshorebirder

 

May 4 continued.

 

Roger and I turned onto Ruby Road in Arivaca at 3:00pm, a little later than we hoped but not too much.  Ruby Road runs through part of a unit of the Coronado National Forest.  This 1.78 million acre national forest is composed of different units in southern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico.  Ruby Road starts out nice and paved for the first few miles, then becomes a dirt road and deteriorates.  But not terribly this time of year.  We did have to drive through a very large pool of water where water was flowing across the road.

 

I wish I had taken some photos along Ruby Road, but it seems I did not.   Just before the ghost town of Ruby, Arizona we turned right onto California Gulch Road, which leads down nearly to the Mexican border.  In the beginning it is grassy oak woods, then the landscape grows more stark farther down canyon.  
 

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We drove down to the traditional parking spot just before California Gulch Road crosses Warsaw Canyon on a rocky streambed.  The plan was to look and listen for Black-capped Gnatcatchers (Roger's Nemesis Bird) before sundown, and then try for owls and Buff-collared Nightjar and Common Poorwill after dark.  Essentially, the only place Buff-collared Nightjar occurs north of Mexico is in southern Arizona.  And it is very rare in the U.S. indeed.  To try for this one, we were a little over half a mile north of the U.S.-Mexico border.

 

We birded around the Warsaw Canyon confluence and had Broad-billed Hummingbirds, a nesting House Wren, Bushtits, Bell's Vireos, Lucy's Warblers and other residents.  Then we worked downhill, clumsily spooking a Black-tailed Jackrabbit which bolted from the area before we could get decent looks or a photo.  

 

Down at the bottom of California Gulch Road, below where the road crosses Warsaw Canyon in a rocky streambed, there is a beautiful little campground amid shady trees.  It still had surface water running in the streambed behind camp - who knows how many weeks more as the winter rains drain away before the July-August monsoons replenish things.  

 

View back up California Gulch:

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A spring brings groundwater to the surface behind camp:

 

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Here is the campsite at dusk:

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Here is a Google map of the Warsaw Canyon confluence area:

 

https://goo.gl/maps/Q13iSLLnXmfdVaQs7

 

Scrolling south should bring up a marker pin where the nice little camping spot is located.

 

As we worked back up to the car for some water and a snack, a Sprinter-type van arrived, parked, and disgorged a bird tour and their guide.  It was one of the major bird tour companies but they were well-behaved and the guide was nice and considerate.  Roger and I worked back downcanyon as they began setting up a picnic lunch / supper.  As all his clients were happpily stuffing their faces, the guide came down to chat and talk strategy.  We pointed out a Lesser Nighthawk zooming to and fro back just upcanyon, and he raced back to get the clients on it.  Successfully for the most part.

 

Did some more chatting and comparing notes and strategies while waiting for the sun to go down.  Roger and I agreed to essentially follow his lead and give them room.  Long story short, we had two Elf Owls loosely circling his judicious use of a recording and we saw one of them perched briefly in a flashlight's beam.  Common Poorwills were calling but at a great distance. Then we had a Buff-collared Nightjar calling and flying back and forth at close range unseen in the near-darkness.  But we did not see it or harass things too much, though I felt a little guilty at the tour's having gone farther than I would have.  

 

The Buff-collared was a "heard-only life bird" for me - one I had missed in a couple of previous attempts.  Elf Owl was a lifer for Roger I think, if memory serves.  Tiny little things and cute as they can be!

 

We were still missing Roger's lifer Black-capped Gnatcatcher after failing to find it at both Patagonia Lake State Park and California Gulch.  Our last chance at it might be the next morning at Florida Wash near Madera Canyon.  
 

Edited by offshorebirder
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