Friday, July 23, 2010

Southeast Arizona: The Santa Ritas

Greetings from Portal, AZ

After just a few evening hours of birding around Mt. Lemmon, Rob and I have followed it up by a full day in Madera Canyon and a day and a half in the Sierra Vista area. Both places have been great and we have had many highlights in each.

We started the first morning in Florida (pronounced flow-re-da, but why not just pronounce it like the state?) Wash. Within a few seconds, Rob was able to see his first of many lifers for the day, Lucy's Warbler. After working the wash for a short period of time, we were also able to get great looks at Rufous-winged Sparrow T'd up and singing away.

Afterwards we stopped by the Proctor Road Parking area of Madera Canyon. There is some great habitat in this area, with some large Cottonwoods dominating the scene. We were quickly able to come by a few Varied Buntings. This is one of the most beautiful birds when seen in good lighting, but in many cases all that is seen is a dark bunting shaped bird. We were lucky enough to see him in all his splendor.

Varied Bunting

Acorn Woodpecker

We then headed into the Pine-Oak life zone of the Madera Picnic area and added many great looks at many species - Rob had about 10 lifers. We had our first looks at Painted Redstarts, Arizona Woodpeckers, and Sulphur-bellied Flycatchers. An Acorn Woodpecker, the "clown face", also offered great looks. With a little luck we spotted a flyover flock of Band-tailed Pigeons which was also a new bird for Rob.

Painted Redstart

Following the Picnic Area, we decided it was time for a real hike. We drove to the end of the road and hiked up the Super Trail - what a great name. The highlight of the hike was going the wrong way on the trail as we were going up (we followed the wash instead of the trail). This short detour included great looks at a Scott's Oriole and many great looks at Bushtits. If you don't know what a Bushtit looks like just imagine a gray mouse, and imagine it turning into a bird, the end result is a Bushtit.

Scott's Oriole

After the mouse-bird, we headed to some hummingbird feeders. We visited two sets of feeders and were not disappointed by either. One of the group of feeders turned out to be more active, and we were able to see Berryline and Violet-crowned Hummingbirds at the feeders at this location. While we were watching, we met another birder from the area and he offered to show us the Violet-crowned nest that is in Madera right now. We quickly located the nest with his help and were able to watch a Violet-crowned incubating eggs for a while. Throughout the hike there and back, we were amused by his many stories of birds and mountain lions, and in some cases both.

Violet-crowned Hummingbird on a nest in Madera Canyon.

We left Madera after the hummers but decided to drive through the Santa Ritas to reach Patagonia. On our drive we added many species to our trip list, and we were able to get scope views of a singing Botteri's Sparrow. Rob also saw his first Western Scrub-Jay.

Hutton's Vireo

Cassin's Kingbird

After driving through the mountains, we headed to areas around Patagonia. Unfortunately, the birding was characterized by thunderstorms and rain. We spotted Thick-billed Kingbird and Gray Hawk along Sonoita Creek, and Rob saw his first Canyon Wren.

Since the rain had defeated our birding ambitions in the Patagonia area, we headed to Miller Canyon in the Huachuca Mountains. We decided to hike up Miller Canyon and hoped that we would have luck with Spotted Owls. We didn't know this at the time, but we took the much longer route and didn't have enough time to make it up to the owls. So after hiking back down we thought it was time for some owling. This isn't the best time for owling since owls tend not to make much noise after mid July, but we ended up doing very well. We were extremely lucky when we came across a fledgling Whiskered Screech-Owl watched closely by two parents. The fledgling came within about 10 feet of the road and made sure he had a good long look at us before flying a little ways away.

And to end the night we were able to listen to an Elf Owl in lower Miller Canyon. What an amazing place to listen to the night sounds.


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