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offshorebirder

May 5 - Madera Canyon.

 

Roger and I had diverging interests in the Madera Canyon area, where the Santa Rita mountains rise from the surrounding Sonoran Desert about 40 miles south of Tucson.  Roger wanted to see the Black-capped Gnatcatchers that were being seen in Florida Wash and Five-striped Sparrows that were being seen in Box Canyon.

 

I was going to meet up with @Atdahl ad his wife Karen and explore the middle reaches of Madera Canyon, starting at the Proctor Road trailhead and continuing up to Madera Canyon picnic Area and then to the Santa Rita Lodge, where they were staying.  After looking for Antelope Jackrabbits (in vain) early, Roger dropped me off at Proctor Road and headed downhill to his two destinations.  

 

It was great meeting @Atdahland Mrs. Dahl.   They are good naturalists and right-thinking all around.  Unfortunately bird activity was extremely slow that morning in Madera Canyon.  Mammals as well.  We eventually saw and heard some nice birds and saw some reptiles and it was fun to talk quietly and explore.  I neglected to take many photos that day, so I apologize for the lack of eye candy in today's post.  But the next few days will have plenty.

 

Warbling Vireo - these birds like broadleaf woodlands, preferably along a stream or other water source.

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My non-native, lay opinion of this next one is Sonoran Spotted Whiptail but please correct me if I am wrong @Atdahl.  I went by this web page, which had one of the few range maps for Arizona Reptiles I could find online.  http://www.reptilesofaz.org/Lizards-Subpages/h-a-sonorae.html

 

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Similarly, I think this next one might be an Elegant Earless Lizard

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We missed seeing the recently reported Elegant Trogons but Roger and I heard them farther up canyon when he came to pick me up around 1pm.  

 

Roger and I had originally intended to stay after dark and try and see the famous Elf Owls emerge from their nest hole near Santa Rita Lodge, and hope to see a Ringtail at the lodge.   But @Atdahl said Ringtail had not been seen reliably lately.  So Roger and I decided to skip the nocturnal activity and head for our next lodging in Hereford during daylight, to rest and recharge.   I was still suffering from a cold virus and needed to pace myself.

 

Our Airbnb rental house and yard just south of Miller Canyon Road had bird feeders, including hummingbird feeders - and water sources.   And some trees and bushes.   Very extroverted Canyon Towhees and Curve-billed Thrashers.  And Coues' White-tailed Deer!    We had bought some birdseed during our travels and spread some to see what kind of birds were nearby.   Little did we realize that the local deer could smell it.   They woke up from their siesta around 5pm and started nibbling the birdseed from the ground.

 

This is iphone video out the dining room window:

 

 

The owner said Javelina (Collared Peccaries) came through the yard two or three times a week.  In the fading light, we saw Broad-billed Hummingbird, as well as Black-chinned and Rivoli's Hummingbirds.  

 

Tomorrow we had a quest planned in nearby Hunter Canyon, in the Huachuca Mountains.  

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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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Atravelynn

I had to google Patagonia, Arizona, thinking you might have mixed up your trip report locations. 

That's too bad about Ben not being able to join you.  I am sure both Ben and you were disappointed.

I never realized a creature could be both elegant and earless.

 

Great birds.  I'm sure you have added some to your lifelist with this trip.

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offshorebirder

Thanks @Atravelynn.   Yes - Ben,  Roger, Tommy Graham (whom Ben calls Mzee Tommy) and I were very sorry Ben could not make it to join us.

 

I did indeed add some birds to my life list.   Mammals too!

 

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Atdahl

We had a great time meeting you as well Nate.  The conversation was really good but the wildlife viewing was not unfortunately.  Thanks for taking a morning out of your trip to hike with us.  Madera Canyon is still such a pretty place to spend some time even if the wildlife doesn't cooperate.

 

Our Ringtail stakeout the night before was unsuccessful so we will have to try again.   I believe the resident nesting Elf Owl was around but it lives in an ugly phone pole and is just about in a private yard so we didn't venture over to take a look although others did and I assume they spotted it.  The only Elf Owl we have ever seen was in a Saguaro Cactus hole a few months ago and that's the perfect way to see them :).

 

Your whiptail ID looks correct to me.  I think the second lizard is an Ornate Tree Lizard.  They have lots of different patterns and that particular individual is consistent with some others that we have seen.  It looks like it was actually on a tree as well.

 

We are enjoying your report and looking forward to more.

 

Alan

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offshorebirder

Thanks for the ID help @Atdahl.   

 

I somehow forgot to post the photos of an ANTELOPE JACKRABBIT that Roger took in Florida Canyon during his successful search for the Black-capped Gnatcatchers.    He said he spotted it watching him from the shade of a bush and he was given the opportunity to take some photos.

 

 

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So in hindsight  @Atdahl and Karen and I chose poorly in our destination I suppose.

 

 

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offshorebirder

 

May 6 - Hunter Canyon and Ramsey Canyon

 

For our first foray into the Huachuca Mountains, we chose Hunter Canyon.   This is a smaller, shorter canyon than other, more popular canyons in this mountain range.  But it was where a pair of Rufous-capped Warblers had been for the past few weeks, and where the species had bred last year.  Rufous-capped Warblers used to be rare vagrants but now their range barely (and sporadically) extends into the USA, down in southern Arizona and southern Texas.  Often they are wintering, nonbreeding birds. They like brushy, grassy semi-open canyon habitat, with a sparse canopy.  Hunter Canyon used to be a shady, dense-canopy forested canyon, but a fire killed many of the large trees and opened up the habitat.  As a result, much of the canyon bottom has gotten brushier and grassier, with more wildflowers than the former shady riparian forest.   Eventually it will cycle back to forest as the small trees grow large, and the remaining medium and large trees re-seed the canyon.  

 

It was a short drive - 2.6 miles - to the Hunter Canyon parking lot.  The morning was chilly, with much more wind than we wanted.  The Hunter Canyon parking lot and trailhead is a non-fee area of the national forest, so we did not have to stuff dollar bills in the envelope and take the hang-tag for our rearview mirror as with other campgrounds and access points.  

 

As we were heading out, a couple arrived who were obviously birders and we traded info on the warblers and other news.  They were from West Virginia and were very nice and seemed to know their stuff about natural history.  We enjoyed seeing a Greater Pewee (another of those rare-in-the-USA birds that only occurs in southern Arizona and Texas) and delightfully clownish Acorn Woodpeckers.  We also had good migration activity - Hermit and Townsend's Warblers, which are gorgeous warblers indeed.  A dapper male Black-throated Gray Warbler also foraged in a tree just across the canyon from our vantage point.  We had two Empidonax Flycatcher species - Hammond's Flycatcher and Western (presumably Cordilleran) Flycatcher.    Vireo species included Hutton's, Plumbeous and Cassin's.  We also had Grace's Warbler and Painted Redstart, so it was a good warbler morning indeed.

 

And we also saw the target Rufous-capped Warbler, in the section of canyon it had been frequenting recently.  The gentleman from West Virginia picked it up first - skulking through some reeds and brush on the lowest slope of the canyon, not far uphill from the water flowing in the channel.  Then Roger saw its olive back and gnatcatcher-like tail.   I got on it a bit later and got a look at the side of its face - the red crown and rear side of the face (auriculars), the white eye line and white arc under the eye, and yellow throat.  So together we assembled a composite ID image.  No photos unfortunately, this bird was not coming out in the windy conditions.  

 

We were standing there, watching for the Rufous-capped Warbler(s), being as silent and unobtrusive as possible.  The gentleman from West Virginia (I really regret not getting their names and contact info) whispered "There's a Coati in the trail".   Just as he did, we saw a lone Coati as it loped over to a large pine tree, and ran up the trunk incredibly quickly.  Then it paused on a small broken stub of a limb and turned to look at us.  
 

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After a bit (it didn't seem to mind us looking at it through camera lenses) it decided things were safe, and FLOWED down the vertical tree trunk to the ground.  "At home in trees" is a serious understatement regarding Coatis.  It seemed to use its tail to help hold onto tree limbs, but I do not think the tail is fully prehensile.  It seems to use it to brace and help support itself in addition to paws and claws.
 

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The Coati ambled off downhill around the corner of the trail, and none of us even thought about following.  We knew to give the Coati its space.  Even if we had tried sneaking around the corner after it, it would have almost certainly scampered off - that would have been out of bounds and pushing things.   Odds are, no better views or photos would be obtained - at the cost of disturbing a rare critter.

 

We thanked the guy from West Virginia for the good spot and subtle notification.  We could tell the couple had good fieldcraft and good ethics, a rare combination to meet any more.

 

We waited some more and kept looking for the Rufous-cappeds.  Roger spotted what we think might be the nest - partially built and lacking the top of the dome - in the exact habitat type the literature describes.  

 

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We also enjoyed Steller's Jays, Scott's Orioles, Black-headed Grosbeaks, Hepatic Tanagers, Bushtits, and Arizona Woodpecker - a very rare and range-restricted bird that Roger needed for his life-list.   

 

Then back to the house for lunch, more sunscreen, and an Internet / email check.  Then over to Ramsey Canyon, a Nature Conservancy preserve just to the north.  When we had been planning this trip, we hoped the Tufted Flycatchers would be back for a third year in a row.  Unfortunately they did not.  Perhaps they found a more favorable territory in the Sierra Madre mountains of Mexico this year.

 

After watching hummingbirds at the nectar feeders at the Visitor's Center, we started up the trail system.  Not far up the trail, we saw a couple of Border Patrol agents coming down the trail with a couple of "captives".

 

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It was a bit surreal, though we had been seeing the Border Patrol "Paddy Wagons" at the canyon entrances the past couple of days.  But I want to stress that the southern Arizona border areas are completely safe for birders and naturalists.  It's just after dark in a few specific places that things can sometimes get weird.  

 

Not long afterwards, we saw a nice Painted Redstart foraging along the main stream, perching on tree trunks and branches and staying in the shade as they often do (not good for photographic purposes).  

 

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Here is a view of a little side stream
 

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Here is a view looking up at the walls of the main canyon:

 

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At regular intervals we saw Coues' White-tailed Deer.   
 

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I apologize for the paucity of photos up to now, but some good ones are coming soon.  The next day - May 7 - provided what was probably the best birding of the trip and a neat mammal as well. 

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kittykat23uk

Wonderful pic of the antelope jackrabbit!  Those legs are so slender! :)

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offshorebirder

Thanks @kittykat23uk - I will pass along your compliment to Roger.   

 

As you probably know, Antelope Jackrabbits are  the fastest of the Jackrabbits - up to 45 miles per hour I have read.

 

And they sure are large hares!

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Atdahl

Lovely report and pictures @offshorebirder.  Congrats to Roger on that Antelope Jackrabbit too.  You really can't tell how huge they are in photos.  It's something that needs to be seen with your own eyes. Or, you could try to get something in the frame to help compare sizes.

 

To that end, hopefully you don't mind a quick tangent.  I have attached two pictures from a wildlife camera we monitor for an Arizona non profit.  They just happen to show an Antelope Jackrabbit and a Desert Cottontail in just about the same location.  So, it makes it easy to see their relative sizes.  The Antelope Jackrabbit is one big boy... :)

 

 

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IMG_0922.JPG

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offshorebirder

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 access to the high country of the Huachuca Mountains - the upper reaches of all the other canyons can only be accessed by hiking.


Carr Canyon is legendary among North American birders.  Jim Lane - who pioneered the birdfinding guide genre - lived in Carr Canyon, in an inholding of private land within Coronado National Forest.  In 1965 he wrote a book called " A Birdwatcher's Guide to Southeastern Arizona" to share his intimate seasonal knowledge with visiting birders seeking rare and thrilling birds.  Carr Canyon and the Chiricahua Mountains were its linchpins.


Roger and I were looking for good migration action, as well as certain rare and range-restricted birds, and we hoped some mammals as well.  Not to mention butterflies and reptiles, though the cold temperatures might not help with those.  


As we reached elevations where good stands of trees began, we idled along slowly, windows rolled down, listening for birdcalls.  I started registering lots and motioned for Roger to pull over and park before a closed gate across a side road.  We were at around 7200 feet, just below Reef Townsite campground.   The road ahead led into a nice pine forest, with a fairly open understory but with groups of bushes and sections of brush.  


A Greater Pewee sang its "Jose-Maria" song from a pine limb perch, and an Orange-crowned Warbler was our first warbler of the day, an auspicious start.  Then Audubon's Warbler, Grace's Warbler and Bushtits.  Then a glowing golden-headed male Hermit Warbler.  Such stunning birds.  The Orange-crowned and Hermit Warblers and probably Audubon's were migrating through.  Then we heard and saw Plumbeous Vireos and a Cassin's Vireo.  Spotted Towhees were everywhere we went it seemed.  Low desert, high mountain forest, and everything in between.  Common Ravens also croaked as they went past looking for trouble.


Greater Pewee

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Plumbeous Vireo

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We noticed the flock was heading sort of downhill and around the corner, so we admired some American Robins and a Hermit Thrush on our way back to the car to move up the road and park.   Then we noticed that Reef Townsite campground was right where we wanted to be.   It was devoid of campers, as was the case with nearly every forest service campground we encountered, this early in the season.  Hooray!


Hermit Thrush

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View from Reef Townsite campground looking towards Carr Peak.

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We worked around to the southeastern section of the campground, so the sun was at our back.  Brown Creeper, Townsend's Warbler, Ruby-crowned Kinglet.   Audubon's Warblers, Hermit Warblers, Black-throated Gray Warbler, Grace's Warblers, White-breasted Nuthatch.   "Too much to process" I said and Roger agreed.  That is what birders crave - overload.   Too many birds coming too fast to process.  Warblers, Vireos, Tanagers, Thrushes, Orioles.  We worked our way to our right, along the lower part of the slope, so the sun was at our back with good trees and foliage in front of us.  


Audubon's Warbler

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Grace's Warbler

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Then we saw a Western Flycatcher, and then two Buff-breasted Flycatchers - one of our major targets for the trip.  This is the smallest of the North American "Empidonax" Flycatchers and only a few dozen pairs breed in the USA.


Buff-breasted Flycatcher

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Then we had a pair of Hepatic Tanagers, making their chirp calls.  Multiple Grace's Warblers and then we thought we heard an Olive Warbler - one of the biggest targets and a potential lifer for Roger.  Then Wilson's Warbler with his stunning yellow coloration, sharp black cap, and jet black eyes.  The ubiquitous Spotted Towhee and then a nice Painted Redstart.  We got split up when Roger kept seeking the Olive Warbler and I got fixated on a fearless little Yellow-eyed Junco.  In the USA they can only be seen in high mountain areas of southeast Arizona and occasionally the Texas Big Bend National Park.


The Junco was gathering nesting material and despite its sticking to the shadows religiously, I got a few good photos.

 

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We birded around and picked up a few new species, but the party seemed to be breaking up.  So we got back on Carr Canyon Road and headed up the mountain, stopping to work good sections of forest, and hearing another Olive Warbler but failing to spot it.  Up at the end of the road, Ramsey Vista Campground had similar birds and also an Arizona Woodpecker (formerly known as Strickland's Woodpecker).   


Then a Cliff Chipmunk ran up a tree at the sight of us but still gave some views.
 

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Roger talked me into hiking down the trail to Comfort Springs and back, and I am glad he did.  Waiting for us in that delightful dell was a singing male Red-faced Warbler.  You guessed it, a very rare warbler that only occurs in high mountain areas of southeast Arizona ...


Red-faced Warbler

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Unfortunately, a dratted stray branch kept getting in the way of my shots of the Red-faced Warbler.

 

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Comfort Springs

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The hike to and from Comfort Springs had amazing scenery.  

 

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View down towards the San Pedro River valley.
 

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We were tired and hungry after hiking back to Ramsey Vista, so we returned to the house and ate lunch, downloaded images, etc.   Our afternoon visit was to the San Pedro River Riparian Conservation Area - I will cover that in my next post.

 

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offshorebirder

Thanks for those comparison photos @Atdahl.   Wow.    Antelope Jackrabbits are huge but that really drives it home!

 

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kittykat23uk
8 hours ago, offshorebirder said:

Thanks for those comparison photos @Atdahl.   Wow.    Antelope Jackrabbits are huge but that really drives it home!

 

 

We are also lucky to have one of the biggest lepus species here in the UK, our beautiful European brown hare. Weight-wise it's up there with the antelope jackrabbit,  although its build is a bit less athletic than a jackrabbit.  It still dwarfs our European bunnies though. I was lucky enough to see a few on my commute into London today. :)

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offshorebirder

Very cool that you can see Brown Hares on your commute to work @kittykat23uk.    That kind of thing really improves one's quality of life.

 

 

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offshorebirder

May 7 - afternoon.


In the afternoon we decided to visit the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area.  Or the "San Pedro" as most people refer to it.  This rare riparian desert habitat was formally protected in the 1980s.  It consists of 40 miles of the upper San Pedro River and the vegetation and habitat in a corridor surrounding the river is protected against cattle grazing and other human-caused degradation and interference.  Rain falling in the Huachuca Mountains and the San Pedro Valley drain (above and below ground) down into the San Pedro River, which runs along the intersection of the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts.


We drove north then east through the city of Sierra Vista (or "Scary Vista" as people in Bisbee refer to it) and in six miles turned off the highway to the San Pedro House.  This is an old ranch house that was restored by the Friends of the San Pedro River as an information center and gift shop.  They maintain bird feeders (both seeds and nectar feeders)  and native plants that are being reintroduced.   The Bureau of Land Management owns and manages the Riparian Conservation Area; in the area around the San Pedro House, it is allowing the succession of native plants into the former pastures and agricultural fields that are currently mature grasslands.  


View of the grasslands, with the Cottonwood and Sycamore-lined San Pedro River and Mule Mountains in the background.

 

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Needless to say, this north-south ribbon of water and vegetation amid two large deserts is a magnet for migratory birds.  And we were still well within the  spring migration period.  The river was still flowing, though the volume this time of year is pretty low.  

 

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But during floods during the monsoon season (July and August) and in winter, the river can become a deep torrent that stacks dead trees in side channels on currently dry land.


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Riverbank

 

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Riparian floodplain habitat

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Riparian woodland habitat

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We took a trail from the house to the river and saw a distant Zone-tailed Hawk soaring over the riverside forest.  Then a nice American Kestrel was perched on a signpost in the grasslands.  The first bird we saw as we reached the river was a bright male Yellow Warbler.  This is not a good photo, but it gets the point across about what a brilliant bird they are. 

 

Yellow Warbler taking flight.

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Then more brilliant birds - Scott's Oriole, and Bullock's Oriole.  Then Common Ground-Dove and Inca Dove, White-crowned Sparrow and Song Sparrow, Hepatic Tanager and Summer Tanager, Wilson's Warbler and Common Yellowthroat, Brown-headed Flycatcher and Cassin's Kingbird.  Gila Woodpecker and Acorn Woodpecker.   It was pretty good birding, considering the warm afternoon temperatures.  


Then we saw the first of few small flocks of Mexican Ducks on sandbars in the river.   They are close relatives of Mallard and Mottled Duck but differ in range, facial pattern and color, thickness of white border trailing their blue speculum, and lack of white feathers in the undertail covers and tail tip.  Unlike Mallards, Mexican Duck drakes look like hens.  They are rare in the USA and only found in the southwest - mostly in southern Arizona, New Mexico and Texas but also vagrants farther north and west.

 

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We followed a trail up the river to the bridge where highway 90 crosses the river and saw our first Black Phoebe of the trip, building a nest under the bridge and beside a piling.  And we had Bank Swallows investigating holes in a deep section of riverbank.  


We had more good birding back south along the river and back on trails to depart not long before dark.  Not many photos from that afternoon - it was fun birding and exploring the river and I kept forgetting about the camera...


Plenty of cool photos in the next installment.  
 

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Atravelynn

I don't believe I have seen a Mexican Duck before.

"The Bureau of Land Management owns and manages the Riparian Conservation Area; in the area around the San Pedro House, it is allowing the succession of native plants into the former pastures and agricultural fields that are currently mature grasslands. "  Let's hear it for the native plants.

 

 

 

 

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offshorebirder

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 Mountains.  We felt we had not exhausted its possibilities and decided against Miller Canyon or some nice canyons over on the vast Fort Huachuca.


We worked our way to Reef Townsite campground again, stopping for a few birds or flocks along the way.  At Reef, I heard the high-pitched trilling lisp of a Brown Creeper.  Roger and I hurried to get our optics and cameras on, and had to work our way through some really good birds to find the creeper.  Two Greater Pewees were calling insistently, and we had three warbler species - Grace's, Hermit and Townsend's. 


We spotted the Brown Creeper in a large Alligator Juniper tree.  It was alternating between catching insects (the below and also a moth of some sort) and singing.

 

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Then we had to choose between looking at Cassin's and Plumbeous Vireos, and a Hepatic Tanager.  Chose the Cassin's as it was the least common.  

Then we saw some flycatcher activity and it turned out to be a Cordilleran Flycatcher vocalizing and a pair of Buff-breasted Flycatchers engaged in some sort of courtship display.  The male got bits of nesting material and perched on a rock, while holding up the material for inspection.  Which the female would do from above while hovering, perhaps deigning to come down and closely inspect or take the offering.

 

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All the while, Spotted Towhees, Gila Woodpeckers, Gambel's Quail, Wodehouse's Scrub-Jays and all manner of other birds were vocalizing or showing themselves.  Funny how one gets tunnel vision for the rarest or most hard-to-see quarry.  

 

Then we heard an Olive Warbler but could not get a look at it or a positive ID.  There were a couple of warblers that could have been either female Hermit Warblers or female Olive Warblers but good looks kept eluding us as the birds flitted in the tops of the conifers.

But we did get good looks at other warblers and a Hammond's Flycatcher.
 

Hammond's Flycatcher

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And another Buff-breasted Flycatcher

 

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The Buff-breasted Flycatchers seemed to be flocking to, and competing for, some of these prime areas.

 

We worked up and down the slopes around the campground, and enjoyed Band-tailed Pigeons, Yellow-eyed Juncos, Painted Redstarts, Black-headed grosbeaks and other birds.  Then we decided to head uphill and check nice coniferous forest areas for Olive Warblers, a target we still needed and a highly desired lifer for Roger.


First stop, nice birding and a distant heard-only male Olive Warbler singing.   Second stop, Roger spotted a female at medium height in the pine trees while I had been tracking two males singing and moving around up the slope.  


Female Olive Warbler

 

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After our successful Olive Warbler sighting, it was time to depart for our next stay in Portal, Arizona at Cave Creek Ranch.  Portal is a very enlightened little town in ecological terms - it prides itself on its dark skies and lack of light pollution.  After mining died out, hunting, fishing, nature tourism and biological research began to be the primary economic forces in Portal and the even smaller town of Paradise, nearby but higher in the mountains.  Cave Creek Ranch, between Portal and the National Forest lands, has catered to nature lovers and photographers for over 60 years and is well-known among birders and mammal enthusiasts.  


We stopped for a bag of gourmet coffee in Bisbee and for gasoline in Douglas.  About 31 miles past Douglas on Highway 80, just past Price Canyon Road, we saw a nice herd of about a dozen Pronghorn.   They were not very close, and the heat shimmer was fierce, so no decent photos unfortunately.  Not long afterwards, we saw our first Swainson's Hawks of the trip - we were surprised at having missed them for so long.  

 

Then we made a stop at the Geronimo Surrender Monument - an obelisk with an inscribed plaque.  It commemorates the final surrender of Geronimo and his fellow Chiricahua Apaches, at the nearby Skeleton Canyon.  One used to be able to drive into Skeleton Canyon.  It is on National Forest land, but the access road crosses private land and the landowner closed it to public access several years ago.  Now the public has to hike in from the east, across the Peloncillo Mountains in order to visit.  


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The view behind the Geronimo Surrender Monument


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A distant view of Skeleton Canyon in the Peloncillo Mountains


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I am something of a student of certain native american tribes; Navajos and Apaches, particularly Chiricahua Apaches, have always fascinated me.   What incredible human beings, and how shamefully the U.S. and Mexican governments and people treated them historically and in the present day.

 

Rather than drive all the way to Portal on paved roads, we took the last 12 miles on a combination of dirt roads.  Stateline Road runs atop the border between Arizona and New Mexico, and is well known for its birds and mammals.   We saw some more Swainson's Hawks and then a cooperative Scaled Quail perched atop an old post.


Scaled Quail - locally called "Cottontop Quail" for the whitish top of their crest.

 

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Then we turned onto Portal Road and soon the scenery grew more and more striking.


Approach to Portal

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Cave Creek Canyon entrance

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Approach to Portal - right side view

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At Cave Creek Ranch, we saw a Coues' White-tailed Deer in a grassy area along the entrance road

 

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After checking into the Ranch House (which we rented thinking we would be a larger party) and getting recent news about birds and mammals, we walked the property that borders Cave Creek and has nice native trees and other plants.  We enjoyed great looks at Rock Squirrel, some sort of mouselike creature pausing at the edge of a brush pile, Western Tanagers, Black-headed Grosbeaks, Hooded and Bullock's Orioles, Ladder-backed Woodpeckers, Gambel's Quail, Blue-throated Hummingbirds, Broad-billed Hummingbirds, Black-chinned Hummingbirds, Anna's Hummingbirds, White-winged Doves, and more.   Acorn Woodpeckers provided a constant source of comic relief with their clownish behavior and vocalizing.


Acorn Woodpecker

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Black-headed Grosbeak


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A male Western Tanager - gorgeous creatures.

 

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Ladder-backed Woodpecker


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A male Gambel's Quail out for a stroll


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After enjoying the scene a bit longer, we drove a short distance to the forest service information center, to pick up some maps and pamphlets as well as wildlife sightings information.   Then we did a brief bit of birding in the South Fork of Cave Creek and drove back to Portal to walk around town birding and eat supper at the Portal Peak Cafe and Lodge.  A very cooperative Curve-billed Thrasher sat up in a Sycamore Tree singing and posing for us.

 

Curve-billed Thrasher

 

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And in someone's yard, a flock of Inca Doves was padding around foraging on the ground.

 

Inca Dove

 

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After dark, we drove up into the forest and turned onto Herb Martyr Road, beside the Southwest Research Station - an outpost of the American Museum of Natural History where researchers and biologists are housed and perform myriad research projects.  The Chiricahua mountains are a very popular field laboratory for biologists, ecologists, and other researchers.   This is because of the incredible biodiversity in these mountains, which sit at the intersection of the Rocky Mountain chain, Sierra Madre Mountain chain, Sonoran Desert, and Chihuahan Desert.

 

Our target was Flammulated Owl, a tiny owl that lives in oak and pine woods at altitude in the western U.S. as well as southern British Columbia and Mexico.  They are notoriously difficult to see.   We eventually heard one and along the way heard seven or eight Whiskered Screech-Owls and a Mexican Whip-poor-will - a Caprimulgid or relative of Nighjars and Poorwills.

 

Then driving back to Cave Creek ranch, just before turning into the ranch driveway we saw a Kangaroo Rat scoot across the road.  I think it was either Ord's or Merriam's Kangaroo Rat since it did not seem to have the white tail tip of a Banner-tailed Kangaroo Rat and the location and habitat were wrong for Desert Kangaroo Rat.

 

What a rewarding, yet tiring day!   
 

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Atravelynn

Thanks for including the Geronimo landmark/memorial.  The quail species were looking especially festive.

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@offshorebirder...what a pleasure it is to read a trip report from our southwest desert.  So many people do not realize  how beautiful it is and how many birds and other wildlife that we have.  This year was especially great for the wildflowers following a winter with more rain than usual.  Thanks!

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offshorebirder

Thanks @Atravelynn for the kind words and following along.  

 

Thanks too @marg - yes, I had been hoping some nice wildflower blooms were still in effect, after reading about the extravaganza in southern California.   Fortunately we had excellent wildflower viewing.

 

 

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offshorebirder

 

May 9 - Big Thicket, South Fork Cave Creek, Barfoot Lookout, Rustler Park


I regret not taking any photos of our accommodation - the Ranch House - at Cave Creek Ranch.  When I called to book lodging that could hold three of us (Roger Smith, Ben Mugambi and me) the Stone Cottage was already booked, so we had to rent the Ranch House - overkill but so be it.  We were certainly comfortable and in the center of things.  They maintain lots of nectar feeders for Hummingbirds and seed and suet feeders for birds.  There is a smaller kitchen adjacent to the main one, with an open alcove between them.  Each morning around 5:30 a staff person or the Owner, Reed Peters, would come in the kitchen and fill and deploy feeders for the day.  It was not a bother, just be aware not to walk around in the kitchen in one's underwear.  This is all explained at check-in so there are no surprises.


I relished the chance to talk to Reed all but one of our mornings there.  He was a wealth of information and advice on where and how to find mammals in the area and even farther afield.  He told me where the best place to see Desert Mule Deer was (a bend in the road between Portal and Rodeo, New Mexico at dusk), good places for Kangaroo Rats (Price Canyon Road back near the Geronimo Surrender Monument), good places for Pronghorn, and other goodies.  I wish I had been able to visit Price Canyon Road and Rucker Canyon Road again, as well as do more nocturnal activity.  Next time, when I am not sick with a cold...


We started the day early in what is called the Big Thicket - a dense Mesquite bosque (a type of woodland) along a wash northeast of Portal.  Our target was Crissal Thrasher - an uncommon, secretive and difficult-to-observe denizen of dry thickets in the southwestern U.S. and Mexico.  Roger needed it for a lifer and I was itching to get a photo of one.


There are paths in the big thicket, and next to it is a parking area and birder-friendly property.  This is a kind of theme in southeast Arizona - a property owner makes bird and wildlife-friendly improvements to the habitat, allows birders and naturalists to visit, and accepts donations towards maintenance costs.  Birders usually give a few dollars to each place they visit - and what a small price to pay for enjoying nature, getting lifers, good photos and so forth.  Some places are heavy on the artificial feeding and attracting and some are more habitat and resource-oriented that use water features, strategic plantings, photo/observation blinds and other means.


This rare-bird attracting property used to be known as Dave Jasper's place but is now known as The Rodrigues Place for Bob Rodrigues the current owner.  Bob is a birder and generous soul who maintains the hospitality for vising birders and naturalists.


We got there at 6:30am, before anyone else.  That may sound early, but sunrise in May in Arizona is at 5:30am.  Bob was out front, and as we got out of the car, he said "That's a Crissal Thrasher singing" and pointed across the road at another dense grove of mesquite.  Then we saw a bird on top of a mesquite tree - it was a Crissal Thrasher sitting out in the open, singing.   A rare sight indeed.  I got off a couple of quick photos before it ducked back down into cover. 

 

Distant lousy photo of a Crissal Thrasher.  
 

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We also had a Yellow-breasted Chat and Lucy's Warbler singing and briefly showing themselves.  Thanking Bob, we proceeded to explore the paths in the big thicket as the first humans of the day - an important thing when seeking mammals.  We went slowly and as quietly and unobtrusively as possible.  Around three bends, there was a pair of Desert Cottontail Rabbits.  Beautiful creatures.  

 

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Then we had a covey of Gambel's Quail, a pair of Lazuli Buntings and a small flock of Black-throated Sparrows.  Then a nice Pyrrhuloxia sat up in a tree and posed.


Pyrrhuloxia

 

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Other birds we saw in the big thicket included Pine Siskin, Northern Cardinal, Lesser Goldfinch, House Finch, Ash-throated Flycatcher, Western Kingbird and Brown-headed Cowbird.  We stopped in and visited Bob's feeder and habitat array and made a donation in the collection box.


But we knew the morning was flying past, so we got back in the vehicle and drove towards South Fork Cave Creek.  On Portal Road, we saw a Coyote on the side of the road.  As I came to a stop and eased open the door, it sauntered out into the road and looked back at us.  Thanks Wiley.


Coyote (Canis latrans) 

 

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We were encouraged by our bird and mammal success thus far, and the striking scenery on the drive into the south fork of Cave Creek Canyon was a real treat.

 

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It was a little cooler than normal, which was pleasant.  We drove up South Fork Road and pulled over and parked well before the bridge area.  The wetter conditions in the streamside canyon made for lush vegetation - South Fork Cave Creek is exceptional habitat.

 

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Right away we heard at least three Hermit Thrushes singing - such beautiful songs.  Almost as good as Wood Thrushes though some birders see it the other way around.  Then we enjoyed a Painted Redstart and a White-breasted Nuthatch, Hepatic Tanager and Plumbeous Vireo.


Then we heard an Elegant Trogon calling - a rather inelegant "Grak Grak Grak Grak Grak".  We spotted it after a brief search and unfortunately it was moderately backlit.  


Male Elegant Trogon

 

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Elegant Trogons are highly sought-after by North American Birders, so we were pretty stoked.  Then we heard a softer, different single call from across the road near creek.  It turned out to be a female Elegant Trogon.  At first she was perched on a bare streamside boulder in very harsh light.  But then she flew to a dying tree limb in better light

 

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We were surprised to see her sitting out in the open like that, but were not complaining.  After she departed a nice flock came through - warblers, vireos, orioles, tanagers and more.  After they kind of dispersed / moved on, I made my way carefully down to the streambed.  There were some lush stands of Poison Ivy and I also took care to only step on bare stone or rocks, to avoid trampling sensitive vegetation that takes longer to grow back in these more arid areas.   And Rattlesnakes are a real concern (and attraction) in Arizona in warm weather.


South Fork Cave Creek streambed habitat

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Then we walked slowly uphill along the south fork and enjoyed excellent birding.  There were a few other birders but all very respectful, quiet and well-behaved.  


A flock of Mexican Jays came through, sort of scattering the small birds.  They turned over leaves, looked in cracks in rocks, in seams in logs, at fruiting trees, and found all sorts of food from nuts and seeds to insects to fruit.   


Mexican Jay with a large caterpillar

 

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On the way back, we saw the male Trogon again

 

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Eventually activity slowed and we knew it was time to head for the high country, where birds stay active later in the morning and towards noon.  South Fork Road is around 5400 feet elevation and our next stop, Barfoot Park was 8300 feet.  

 

The scenery and geology along the way was incredible.

 

A sheared rock formation in the high Chiricahuas

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The road from Barfoot Junction to Barfoot Park is always steep and on our visit had wet and muddy sections.   Slippery and uneven rock surfaces almost require a high-clearance vehicle, preferably with all-wheel drive or four-wheel drive.  Once at Barfoot, we had slow but good birding, and soothing habitat.   Huge mature Ponderosa Pine trees, as well as Apache Pine trees form an open gallery forest carpeted with grass and wildflowers and patches of ferns.  Within the forested small valley, the open Barfoot Meadow is traversed by Barfoot Spring after it bubbles out of the ground at the foot of the vegetated talus slope under Barfoot Lookout.   We missed seeing or hearing Mexican Chickadees, but had male and female Olive Warblers and a male Grace's Warbler taking a bath in a puddle among other nice birds.


Grace's Warbler

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Incidentally - "Barfoot" is the old regional American pronunciation of "Bear Foot".   Our next stop was Rustler Park.   Arriving was like a kick in the gut.  A fire a few years ago destroyed many of the large trees and opened the canopy and denuded the area to a surprising extent.  And habitats take much longer to recover at high altitude in the desert southwest.  I knew to expect changes since I last visited Rustler Park, but it was tough to absorb all at once.  We had decent birding but no Mexican Chickadees, Olive Warblers or other coniferous forest targets.  


Steller's Jay in Rustler Park

 

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Driving out we stopped at Barfoot Junction to admire some woodland wildflowers 

 

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Then we drove over Onion Saddle, at 7600 feet and went down and up and down again to reach Pinery Canyon.   It being early afternoon, things were a bit slow for birds though we had some nice butterflies.  


Then we headed back to Cave Creek Ranch for a very late lunch and a bit of a rest and email check.  Then mid-afternoon we stopped in at the Southwestern Research Station to bird and explore the grounds and trails, as well as get some books and T shirts at the gift shop.  Then Herb Martyr Road and trails and campgrounds (empty of humans).   


We enjoyed good birding and naturalizing the rest of the afternoon.  Out of tiredness, we ended the day at the Portal Peak Cafe again - rather than making our own supper at "home".  We ran into a bird tour group from a Canadian birding company (with a bunch of Brit clients) we had met in Carr Canyon a couple of days before, and we enthusiastically traded notes and info as well as congratulations.  Roger and I had also been trading emails with Evan, one of the Wings tour leaders we had met in California Gulch, as his tour and our safari proceeded.   And outside the cafe on the way in, we ran into Gavin Bieber who was there with his own Wings tour - Gavin and I went on several pelagic trips off California together in the late 1990s and early 2000s when I lived in San Francisco.    It is cool how informal birder information-sharing networks spring up around hotspots and meccas.


We were too tired and I was still a bit sick, to pursue any after-dark activities unfortunately.

Edited by offshorebirder
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Atdahl

Looks like a great day Nate.  Congrats on the Elegant Trogon pair, that's a great find.   Your report reminds me that we need to get back to Cave Creek Canyon.  It's such a cool place. 

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Treepol

@offshorebirder I've just caught up with your TR, thanks for posting so many landscape photos as it helps to get a more complete picture of the habitat that the mammals and birds in your photos inhabit. Interesting to read the Geronimo memorial too.

 

Great photos of the warblers and all the birds around Cave Creek, also the Antelope jackrabbit, Cottontail, the chipmunk and the Scaled Quail.

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offshorebirder

Thanks for your kind words and for following along @Atdahl  and @Treepol.     I enjoy your trip reports a lot, so am gratified to return the favor.

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michael-ibk

I always enjoy reports covering lesser known places, so a real interesting read with some excellent pictures. I especially like the Junco and the Quail. And congratos on the Trogon, always a great bird to find anywhere. Most of the species are unfamiliar to me but I see there is a fair bit of overlap with birds I´ve seen in Costa Rica or Brazil, like the Acorn Woodpecker or the Vermillion Flycatcher. And of course I love the Pronghorn. A really interesting and very picturesque wildlife area. Realistically I don´t think I will ever get to see it so thank you for sharing Nathan.

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lmSA84

Thanks for sharing an insight into such a fascinating place. I’ve been in North Carolina the last two months and bought a copy of Nat Geos Field Guide to Birds of NA. It’s been interesting to follow along, scrolling through the book to find all these range restricted birds 

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