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Saturday, September 16, 2017

Rare bird search in Arizona - Part 4

Ramsey Canyon INN B&B
          We spent the night at the Ramsey Canyon Inn figuring that it would be adjacent to Carr Canyon where the Tufted Flycatcher was located. So, this morning our original plan was to move on to Fort Huachucha and bird in Hunter and Scheelite Canyons. Well, since we couldn't find the Tufted Flycatcher last evening our plans had to be alterqed in order to make another attempt at the flycatcher.
           The B&B offered a breakfast with our stay but we skipped that in order to get an early start up Carr Canyon to the campsite. Once again we climbed the rugged roadway to the summit, taking about 40 minutes in all. 
            This time when we arrived we were not alone. Several people were milling about in search of our quarry. Sharon started talking to an older gentleman named Lyn Hemlich. We found out he was from Fresno, CA a city we had recently visited on our way to northern California to visit Redwoods National Park. We found out that Lyn was an avid birder who travels to Arizona frequently. As we talked, he asked me what my life list was for the USA and I told him somewhere in the low 700's. So I asked him and he responded with 840. What? I was amazed and told him he must have been to Attu, Alaska. He said he was there during the miracle spring that all the Asian species showed up and was able to add dozens of life birds to his list.
Tufted Flycatcher
           As we were chatting two vans of birders pulled up into the campgrounds. It was the Tucson Audubon Festival this weekend and a group of them came here for the flycatcher. As Sharon and I were strolling around, our newly acquired friends, Ana and Jeff, were waving for us to come over to the Audubon group. They were looking at a Flycatcher that Lyn and I thought was the Tufted Flycatcher, however the trip leader was saying it was a Buff-breasted Flycatcher, which would be another life bird for me. I looked over at Lyn and I could tell he was thinking the same thing I was, that this bird is not a Buff-breasted but was indeed our target bird, the Tufted Flycatcher.
           After walking around for a while the group found another flycatcher and the leader identified it as a Tufted Flycatcher. After looking at my photos of this bird and the first one, we could tell it was the same bird. So Sharon and I were both happy to get a new ABA life bird, but not as thrilled as Lyn since it is getting really difficult for him to add a new species.
Tufted Flycatcher with very little tuft after molt - New Life Bird
             Afterwards we strolled around the campground for another half hour and were able to find a Zone-tailed Hawk, Anna's and Rufous Hummingbirds, Acorn Woodpecker, Mexican Jays, Cordilleran Flycatcher and Western Wood-Pewee. Also making an appearance were Hutton's Vireo, Bewick's and Rock Wrens, Woodhouse's Scrub-Jay, Painted Redstart, Grace's and Black-throated Gray Warblers and Greater Pewee, singing it's Jose Maria song.
Greater Pewee
Unknown insect - any ideas

Spreading  Fleabane
          On our mountain descent we spotted a Tethered Aerostat Radar System (TARS) which is an American low-level airborne ground surveillance system that uses aerostats (moored balloons) as radar platforms.
Tethered Aerostat Radar Balloon
          After saying goodbye to Lyn, we descended the mountain and headed south to Ash Canyon, home of the Lucifer's Hummingbird. For a small charge of $5 you are invited to sit in this woman's yard and watch all the hummingbirds and other species come to her feeders. Curved-billed Thrasher was one of the first birds we added once we found a comfortable seat.

Broad-billed Hummingbird

Not a great photo of a Lucifer's Hummingbird-note decurved bill

Anna's Hummingbird

Gila Woodpecker
            Leaving Ash Canyon we drove north to Fort Huachuca Army base. After getting passes at the gate we went to the playground area, where on our last visit here, we saw the Sinaloa Wren, a Mexican rarity. This time, when I got out of the car it was so hot that I walked around for about a minute, got back in the car and left. That same thing happened when we stopped at San Pedro Riparian Area. 
           Since it was a scorching 107 degrees we just decided to drive on and get a little closer to tomorrow's destination, the Chiricahua National Monument. We would spend the night in Tombstone which is a neat little town where they have reenactments of the gunfight at the OK Corral. We got our motel and then went into town for dinner at "Big Nose Kate's Saloon". Big Nose Kate was Doc Holiday's girlfriend at that time.
Tombstone Arizona

Wyatt Earp doing the Boot Scootin' Boogie

Statue of Wyatt Earp

            So after dinner and dance we headed out to some back roads looking for Poorwills or Mexican Whip-poor-wills. We found neither, but did run across this guy.

Western Diamondback Rattlesnake - tail on the left
                So we called it a night and headed back to the motel.

           See you tomorrow.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Rare Bird search in Arizona - Part 3

The ubiquitous Acorn Woodpecker
           This morning commenced with a Canyon Wren boisterously singing right outside our bedroom window; an amiable way to wake up. We started out today in Madera Canyon with a energetic walk around the Kubo Cabins and were entertained by Painted Redstarts and a Rivoli's (Magnificent) Hummingbird.
Painted Redstart
Rivoli's Hummingbird
            We then motored (as the English would say) to the top of the canyon and decided to hike up to the Carrie Nation Trail. In the meantime, at the trail head parking lot, the border patrol pulls up with two trucks. A woman and man get out of the truck and the woman threw a M16 machine gun over her shoulder while wearing a kevlar vest and they both started up another trail. By this time we were used to seeing the border patrol so we thought nothing of it.

Border Patrol arrives at trailhead

          We started up the Mt Baldy trail and came to the junction of the Carrie Nation trail and started climbing. We were soon lending an ear to the squeaky toy call of the Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher just ahead. After chasing the family of flycatcher up and down the trail we finally were able to get some photos. This is one cool looking flycatcher.
Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher

            Our main objective however, was to find the Elegant Trogon, which nest up here at around 8000 feet elevation. Following the thrill of observing the flycatcher family's interactions we were then treated to the ventriloquial call of the Elegant Trogon. We meandered up the trail a little further to where I thought the call was emanating and saw a large bird take flight from the trees. It landed further up the trail and we chased it but every time we heard the bird and get close the bird would take flight. I got several great looks at the bird in flight with its bright red belly and long squared off tail but Sharon never did get to see it. We also had a good look at a Blue-throated Hummingbird.

Internet photo of Elegant Trogon
          Leaving the top of the canyon we stopped by the Santa Rita Lodge one more time to take in the feeders. They had an unusual horizontal hummingbird feeder there I had never seen before.

           Around the feeders we spotted Black-chinned, Broad-billed and Rivoli's Humminbirds plus an Arizona Woodpecker and lots of Mexican Jays along with Black-headed Grosbeaks. Much to my chagrin we didn't find a Scott's Oriole,

Black-headed Grosbeak

Broad-billed Hummingbird
Arizona Woodpecker

Mexican Jay
           A little further down the canyon we stopped on Proctor road and were able to get Botteri's Sparrows and found a cute little waterfall.

Proctor Falls

Searching for lizards
Got One!

Desert Flowers

One of many Blooming Barrel Cacti

          As we got lower in elevation we came to Florida (flor-ee-da) Wash where we quickly stopped and heard Botteri's Sparrow on both sides of the road and saw a few. We then headed out of Madera Canyon and went to Florida Canyon where we found the Rufous-capped Warbler a few years back. It was still present but we didn't want to do the hike as it was now noonish and quite temperate. Instead we decided to search for the Black-capped Gnatcatcher which was a complete waste of time.
          Our destination for the evening was the Ramsey Canyon Inn B&B which is located south of Sierra Vista. In order to get there we took the short cut through the mountains following Box Canyon Road. This is a 14 mile long dirt road. In Arizona, you quickly get used to driving on dirt roads. After an hour and a half ride we arrived at the Ramsey Canyon Inn, got our room and started birding the grounds which had a few hummingbird feeders. The Inn is adjacent to the Nature Concservancy's Ramsey Canyon Preserve. Also, if anyone is interested, the B&B is for sale for a mere $1,200,000.
Female Broad-billed Hummingbird

Rivoli's Hummingbird in rear

          Our room at the Inn was called the Rufous. Every afternoon the owner makes a pie for the guests and today's pie was plum and apricot pie. It was quite flavorsome.

           Our main purpose of coming to Ramsey Canyon was in pursuit of the Tufted Flycatcher located in the next canyon south of here. That would be Carr Canyon. The location of the flycatcher was in Reef Townsite campground. I had checked the site several times on google earth and the distance was only about 5-6 miles after entering on the dirt road. I figured it looked like an easy drive. But I never figured the elevation change into the drive. I thought the campsite would be on the same level as the entrance to the canyon, about 4000 feet. Well, what a surprise. The GPS told us it would take 40 minutes to go 5 miles. Something had to be wrong. 
            Well, after coming to the dirt road it looked pretty smooth for the first two miles. Then it started getting windy and started climbing in elevation. After about 3 miles the road changed from dirt to large stones with big ruts and divots. The last mile we were stilling climbing and doing lots of hair pin turns. That last mile took us about fifteen minutes. Finally we arrived just outside the campground entrance and were met by a giant gully across the whole width of the road. We debated rather to park here and walk to the campground or lumber through the trench. We slowly trudged ahead and once the front tires were in the gully there was no turning back. Trying to get out of the gully we could hear the front bumper grinding on the stones, but we made it out. Of course, we had to come back out the same way. 

Near campground - city of Sierra Vista in background

Near campground - city of Sierra Vista in background
          Finally in the campground we started our search. It was around five o'clock in the afternoon when we started our exploration. Unfortunately, storm clouds were out in the distance, but they didn't appear to be heading our way. So we continued our search but to no avail. We kept watching the high clouds but they appeared to be going away from us. Suddenly, through a pass in the mountain close by, some quick moving low clouds came barreling in and the monsoons hit. We immediately started our slow descent down the mountain hoping that we wouldn't slide off the muddy road and off a cliff. But we needed to get down fast because on the way up we had crossed a couple of stream crossings and we needed to get through them before any flash flooding occurred.

Picnic Area in Campground where Tufted Flycatcher was seen most often
         Well as you can see we did make it back in one piece. But the disappointment of not finding the flycatcher was weighing on my mind. It wasn't in the plans to go back tomorrow morning but I just knew that we had to make that trek again. Well, we will have to wait until tomorrow to see what the plans will be. Stay tuned.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Rare bird search in Arizona - Part 2

On the prowl on Montosa Canyon
             On our second day we left the Green Valley Best Western and drove about 20 minutes to Montosa Canyon. Reports were coming in that a pair of Five-striped Sparrows were seen there. If this was true then our previous trip to California Gulch would not be a total loss. As we headed up into the canyon we came upon the Whipple Observatory. It is a radio observatory not a telescopic one. They had four large radio wave dishes around the property. We tried to go in for a visit but the facilities were closed even though the sign in the door said they were open.

Whipple Observatory

One of four radio telescopes
             On the observatory property we found this Varied Bunting perched in an Ocotillo.
Back side of Varied Bunting
             We arrived at the canyon fairly early in the morning because the Arizona midday temperatures are quite unbearable at the lower elevations. After the observatory the road is unpaved and the reported site of the sparrow was about 200 feet past the stream crossing. What is it with Arizona and having to cross over streams on dirt roads? Anyway, we know immediately that this is the spot because a few other birders are already standing around. I get out and ask if the sparrow has been seen and was told it was there about 2 minutes ago. So I walk around to the hatchback and get out the bug spray while Sharon goes to talk to the men standing around. All of a sudden I hear "There it is in the low bush".  I came running around the car to hear Sharon tell me that she saw the bird and it just flew off. You gotta be kidding me right? She suggested that we leave then:) Happily, within a few more minutes I could hear the Sparrow singing and was able to track it down. 
Lifer Five-striped Sparrow
Lifer Two-tailed Swallowtail Butterfly

            Other birds in the area were Canyon Towhee, Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, more Varied Buntings and Bell's Vireo. After the other folks there got ample views and photos we talked to two birders from Arkansas who were headed down to see the Rose-throated Becard at Tumacacori - DeAnza Trail. We told them that we would probably see them there since that was our next destination also. 
            On the way to attempt to see the Becard, we made a quick stop at the Amado Wastewater Treatment pond. This was an easy stop since we could view the pond from the roadside and didn't even have to get out of the car. Before we even raised our binoculars we could see our target bird, an immature Brown Pelican. Imagine that: a Brown Pelican in the middle of the desert. Are you kidding me? We also lucked out and observed a family of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks with new fledged babies on the pond.

The weirdest spot I've ever seen a pelican
             Still on our way to the Becard we discovered this bizarre little restaurant which was for sale if anyone is interested.
It's yours for a steal
            We arrived at the Juan Bautista de Anza Trail and met up again with the folks from Arkansas. 

            They had already gone in to see the Becard but couldn't find the exact area so they were back in the parking lot asking other birders for better directions. I had directions in my car but just decided to follow them instead. So off we went. After viewing a few other birds along the trail we started lagging behind and eventually lost sight of the Arkansas guys. Now we had no idea how to get to the nest area. It was already quite hot and I didn't want to walk all the way back to the car so we roamed around in the woods awhile until we heard voices. Even then we couldn't figure out had to get to those voices. Luckily some workers came by on a cart and I asked where the  bird was and they gave me the general directions but we still had to hunt and peck our way down different trails until we found a small crowd in the woods. They were on the bird when we arrived and fortunately we were able to see this Mexican wanderer.

Male Rose-throated Becard

Female was inside this large messy nest
             After finding the Becard, which was new for me in Arizona, we decided to take a break from birding for a little while and headed down the road about a block and came to the Tumacacori National Historical Park. The park protects the ruins of three Spanish mission communities. 

Mission at Tumacacori
         While on site we stopped to look inside the mission and discovered it was being restored so we couldn't walk through it but instead one of the team members who were working on the restoration came up to talk to us. She described what they were doing and told us that they were graduate students from the University of Pennsylvania. Well they were quite surprised to find out that we too were from the Philadelphia area.
Statue of Jesuit Priest in Museum
            After we finished at the mission we headed back north to the town of Tubac for lunch. Tubac  is  mostly known as an arts colony, but its centerpiece is the Tubac Presidio State Historic Park.When the Spanish first came to this region, they built a presidio (fort) at Tubac and a mission 3 miles south at Tumac├ícori. Although they struggled mightily to hold on to these remote outposts, in both cases the Spanish were chased out by Apaches. Today, you can spend a day leisurely perusing the Park's exhibits and exploring the 100+ galleries, shops, and restaurants of Tubac. We did indeed spend time at one of their restaurants, Shelby's Bistro, which I would recommend. We didn't do the tourist shopping routine.
Colorful flower pots for sale

Yard Decorations

Everyone needs one of these.
              After lunch we headed south again towards Nogales, a city on the border of Mexico. But we head east to Patagonia Lake State Park. We are stopping here in search of Black-capped Gnatcatcher and Green Kingfisher, a rare bird in Arizona. Upon arrival in the park we run into one of  Arizona's summer monsoons.

Barrel cactus in partial bloom

Walking bridge over Patagonia Lake
             We decided to call off the hunt because of the lightning and drove further east to the Paton's house.
Welcome sign to the small town of Patagonia
            The Paton's first began inviting birders into their backyard shortly after moving to Patagonia in 1973. They eventually put up a canopy and set out benches, bird books, and a chalkboard for people to record their sightings. The Patons had a special vision for supporting their backyard birds with an array of feeding stations and supporting the wider birding community by sharing the riches of their own yard. This place is famous for the rare birds that have shown up in their yard. It is the most reliable spot to find Violet-crowned Hummingbird in all of the state.

            Besides hummingbirds, we were also able to enjoy Gambel's Quail, White-winged and Inca Doves, Gila Woodpecker and Rufous-crowned Sparrow.

Inca Dove with its head lowered

Broad-billed Hummingbird

Out of focus Black-chinned Hummingbird

             Although we did see Violet-crowned Hummingbird I was not able to get a good photo so I borrow some free stock photos of them from the internet.

Violet-crowned Hummingbirds from internet
            It was now around five o'clock so we started the long drive back to Madera Canyon where we would spend the night. We booked a room at the Kubo Lodge which always reminds us of a hobbit house.

Kubo Cabin - Hobbit House

Sharon keeping an eye on feeders
             When we checked in we were told to take the hummingbird feeder in at night because the bats will drink all the liquid during the night. We did that but I had to watch the bats for about 15 minutes or so before stealing their food. At dusk we went down to the Santa Rita lodge and watched the Mexican Jays and more hummers. When it was dark enough we walked across the street to a telephone pole in hopes of seeing the Elf Owl come out of its hole for the evening hunt. But we had no luck with that. The owner of the lodge said that they already fledged their young so they probably abandoned the hole for this year.
            We met some new friends from VA, Ana and Jeff. They were going to attend the Tucson Birding Festival for the weekend. We exchanged cell numbers and updated each other on our bird sightings for the next 5 days. 
             Anyway we got another nice sunset and went back to the cabin to dream about tomorrow's birding adventures.