April 30-May 8, 2005
Bill Murphy and April Sterling
SATURDAY, APRIL 30
Our trip to Arizona began at 4:35 a.m. the morning of April 30. We were on time for our 6 a.m. nonstop Indianapolis-Phoenix flight on Southwest Airlines ($222.40/person roundtrip). En route I enjoyed listening to my iRiver MP3 player, learning the southeast Arizona bird songs or listening to the radio. The iRiver is astonishingly good at picking up FM radio stations five or six miles below. I had fun identifying landmarks on the ground and the verifying our air position by scanning the FM band for strong local stations. The pilot took a straight-line course to northern Arizona and then turned south to Phoenix, in the center of the state. As we passed over northern New Mexico I was interested to see lingering snowdrifts on the highest peaks of the Sangre de Cristo mountain range.
It's hard to describe how bright the sunlight can be in southern Arizona, even at low elevations like Phoenix (1,100 ft). Without sunglasses the glare can be unbearable. We'd crossed two time zones, arriving at 9 a.m. local time, with a full day ahead of us. We collected our luggage, took note of the paucity of cowboy hats, rode a shuttle bus to Fox Rent (201 S. 24th St.), upgraded to a Honda Civic hybrid after calculating potential savings in gasoline costs, and were on our way to Tucson by 10 a.m.
Our first destination was the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum west of Tucson, where we planned to learn everything we could about the biology of this part of Arizona. After grabbing a bite to eat in Tucson, we began seeing interesting birds, starting off with two specialty species associated with saguaro - GILA WOODPECKER, which resembles our eastern Red-bellied Woodpecker, and GILDED FLICKER.
We headed west on West Gates Pass Rd., picking up ROCK PIGEON, and made our first birding stop at a pullout along a red-rock arroyo bristling with tall, fat saguaros. Still in our street clothes we descended a gravel trail and walked a few hundred yards up a dry creek bed of sand, trying to stay clear of the thorny brush. April spotted a tiny bird with a bright yellow head - a VERDIN, her first one ever. That made up for the one she'd missed on our New Mexico trip last year. We spotted the first of scores of GAMBEL'S QUAIL with their question-mark-like head plume. They alternated between leisurely pecking the dry gravel like domestic chickens and tearing off like mad after each other, their tiny feet moving so fast it looked like the birds were moving on ball bearings. WHITE-WINGED DOVES called hollowly from various directions. The most conspicuous dove stood atop a huge saguaro, allowing us a perfect view through the scope. They looked bulkier than the abundant MOURNING DOVES, and their bills were considerably longer. Two birds perched high nearby were the jet-black (male) and sooty-brown (female) PHAINOPEPLA. They looked like black cardinals - crested, and with long tails. Phainopeplas are important to the mistletoe plants in the Southwest, as Phainopepla feed heavily on mistletoe seeds, some of which remain viable after passing through the birds' digestive system.
Hummingbirds whizzed past, some stopping to sip nectar and others to investigate anything orange or red. The most common species was BLACK-CHINNED HUMMINGBIRD. When seen from certain angles, a deep purple hue seemed to glow from a narrow band of feathers just below the black chin. A rather small woodpecker that in the East would have been overlooked as a Downy Woodpecker worked its way up a mesquite bush - our first LADDER-BACKED WOODPECKER. Adding to the acoustics, an ACORN WOODPECKER drilled noisily on a nearby telephone pole. Outside the saguaro cactus area, later we saw many NORTHERN FLICKERS of both the red-shafted (western) and yellow-shafted (eastern) morphs.
This arroyo turned out to be a good birding area. Continuing along the dry streambed we found an ASH-THROATED FLYCATCHER making short flights to catch beetles and wasps as they passed by. CASSIN'S KINGBIRD was the most common species that preferred to perch on power lines; farther south we found WESTERN KINGBIRD to be common. LOGGERHEAD SHRIKE was the second most common power line species. Hidden away deep in the dense brush were BELL'S VIREOS, singing their rushed songs through the midday heat. Atop a saguaro a WESTERN SCRUB-JAY surveyed the area, probably looking for handouts from gawkers like us. COMMON RAVENS soared high above us, looking for mischief, and a pair of RED-TAILED HAWKS took advantage of the rising warm air to gain a couple hundred feet in altitude.
After years of observing our diminutive eastern House Wren and slightly larger Carolina Wren, April was pleasantly surprised by a pair of Starling-sized CACTUS WRENS that flew in and landed near us. Common everywhere we went, they seemed to prefer cholla cactus, from which they sent forth their rather unmusical call, which resembles a car being cranked - "chur, chur, chur, chur, chur". We saw EUROPEAN STARLINGS, too, thankfully far fewer than we see in the East. Another species we found during this stop was BEWICK'S WREN, which used to be fairly common in the East but which has disappeared from most areas east of the Mississippi. I consider myself almost an expert at identifying bird songs and calls and soon found that almost any song I didn't recognize turned out to be made by a friendly little BRIDLED TITMOUSE. We enjoyed the foraging antics of tiny brown mites of birds, parents and fledglings, moving like insects through the brush - BUSHTITS.
A breezy, wheezy note signaled the presence of a gnatcatcher. By making a noise like "pish, pish, pish" we soon had a pair of them checking us out from about three feet away. These were BLACK-TAILED GNATCATCHERS, looking very much like our eastern Blue-gray Gnatcatchers except for the black tail. Also responding to our pishing were a flock of tiny LESSER GOLDFINCHES, a TOWNSEND'S WARBLER, a HERMIT WARBLER, a pair of YELLOW WARBLERS, a WILSON'S WARBLER, (which I call the Yarmulka Warbler because of the spiffy black patch on its crown), and a WHITE-CROWNED SPARROW. A tan, jay-sized bird with a scimitar-like bill sang robinlike phrases from atop a saguaro - a CURVE-BILLED THRASHER.
We also managed to pish up some very bland-looking warblers, uniformly light gray with a hint of chestnut at the base of the crown feathers - desert-loving LUCY'S WARBLERS. A number of birds were scratching in the dirt, hopping forward and pulling the soil backward with a little jump. One pair was tan with a necklace of small black spots - CANYON TOWHEES. Other birds were similar to the Canyon Towhees but had rusty crowns, white throats, and green tails - appropriately named GREEN-TAILED TOWHEES. Other dirt scratchers turned out to be NORTHERN CARDINALS, the same species as "ours" but a southwestern race with a comically tall crest. In the mesquite we spotted PYRRHULOXIA, which look like female cardinals with parrotlike yellow bills.
As we finished our half-hour exploration of this arroyo we found a beautiful pair of formally attired BLACK-THROATED SPARROWS, several fly-by pairs of GREAT-TAILED GRACKLE, and one of the most beautiful songsters in the area, the HOUSE FINCH. The pestiferous introduced HOUSE SPARROW was also present, as were NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRDS.
We'd had a fine start to a fine birding day. Continuing to the museum ($12/person entrance fee) we spent three hours slowly working our way around this 21-acre zoo, natural history museum, and botanical garden, which highlights the plants and animals of the Sonoran Desert. We visited the pollination gardens, where special plantings encourage visits by bees, moths, and butterflies. Lizards were abundant on and near the sidewalks. Wild birds including BLACK-HEADED GROSBEAKS and yellow-and-black SCOTT'S ORIOLES fed on the museum grounds. The only COSTA'S HUMMINGBIRD of the trip fed on penstemon flowers along the walkway.
One enclosure housed hummingbirds. Upon entering through a door and then through a barrier made of hanging strips of plastic, we found ourselves in a gardenlike setting through which hummingbirds whizzed by very close to us. Each pair maintained its own territory so faithfully that their sites were printed in the guidebook. Half a dozen pairs were nesting, and April found a nest that the docents hadn't yet discovered. We enjoyed sitting on a bench in the shade, watching all the activity and trying to visually follow the birds back to their nests.
Many of the hummingbirds were females or immatures, which we gave up trying to identify. We were able to conclusively identify Broadbilled, Magnificent, and Black-chinned.
After the hummingbird stop we visited enclosures that housed desert tortoises, a pair of sleeping beavers, native fish, and an array of raptors. The netted aviary had a wide variety of birds that included Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks, Black-necked Stilts, Inca Doves, and Killdeer along with species representative of the Sonoran desert.
April and I took a break to sit in the shade next to a fountain. A cooperative Curve-billed Thrasher foraged in the fallen leaves among the ornamental plants, orioles of several species flew over, while Black-headed Grosbeaks and orioles perched overhead in the cottonwood tree. A family of Cactus Wrens had a nest in a clump of cholla cactus. After resting, we visited the gift shop for souvenirs and to browse the literature. All in all, the visit to the museum was an excellent way to acquaint ourselves with the fauna and flora of the area.
By 3 p.m. we were thinking of checking into our accommodations, then maybe continuing to explore the area. We headed back through Tucson and got on I-10, intending to spend the night at a Baymont Inn in Green Valley. Some time later I realized we'd failed to turn onto I-17 south and were headed east about 20 miles beyond our exit. We checked the map, exited at Vail, and took a non-interstate route to Green Valley so as to see more of the countryside. Along the way we stopped east of Sahuarita and walked a dirt horse trail that ran through rabbitbush and saltbush.
April spotted a raptor soaring overhead, holding its wings in a slight V and showing light forewings and dark hindwings, the opposite pattern shown on most hawks. This was the first of about a dozen SWAINSON'S HAWKS we saw on the trip. We found a gigantic rabbit that loped into the brush at our approach. I swear the thing was the size of a poodle. Later when I looked it up I found that it was either an Antelope Jackrabbit or a Black-tailed Jackrabbit.
The brush was fairly birdless, offering only Black-throated Sparrows and House Finches, but it was still a real pleasure to be in an area so quiet we could locate birds by hearing their wingbeats in the brush. Farther west, along the most extensive pecan plantation I'd ever seen, we found many more Cassin's Kingbirds and Wilson's Warblers.
Green Valley was easy to find; the Baymont wasn't. Looking at buildings along the street for the proper address, we drove all the way through the town and out the west side and still couldn't find the correct address. It just wasn't there. We asked directions and found that the inn was situated well off the street, behind other buildings and not visible from the street. It had already been a very long day, and we were glad to be at the inn.
At the front desk I told the receptionist, "Murphy, party of two." She smiled and said that they had a nonsmoking room ready for us - but not until the next night! I reviewed our notes and discovered that we were spending the night not in Green Valley but in the Chuparosa Inn, a bed-and-breakfast in Madera Canyon about half an hour farther southeast.
We phoned the B&B to let them know that we were on our way. They told us not to rush, that we might like to have dinner at a nice Mexican restaurant called La Placita in Green Valley, across the street from where we were. That sounded like a good idea, so we had our first real Mexican meal of the trip (tasty!).
Before heading to Madera Canyon we stopped at a Circle K to stock up on trail mix, cereal, milk, snacks, and beverages, since there were no stores closer to our B&B. Our drive took us from 2,900 feet to 5,500 feet in elevation, over a mile high. The greater part of the drive was a long, steady climb on a smooth paved road up a gentle slope leading into the Santa Rita mountains.
By the time we reached the mouth of the canyon it was fully dark. The temperature had dropped from the low 80s to the low 50s - dry desert air holds heat poorly, especially at high elevations. We were both dead tired. The canyon was thickly forested right up to the roadside, and since we didn't know what the Chuparosa Inn looked like, we stopped at every likely building. That was ironic because the Chuparosa was the very last lodging on Madera Canyon Road, which continued on, paved and smooth, to a trailhead-parking/picnic area a few hundred yards farther on. We met our hosts, Nancy Hertel and Luis Calvo, and their Australian shepherd Maddie and a puppy, carried our luggage to our very pleasant, tastefully decorated room, and soon were asleep - but excited about the next day!
SUNDAY, MAY 1
It's so nice to be two hours earlier than your home time zone! Getting up at 5:30 a.m. was a breeze, since our internal clocks were telling us it was 7:30 and that we'd had a long night's sleep. The first thing I saw when I opened the door was a male ELEGANT TROGON sitting no more than 20 feet away. By the time I got my contact lenses in it had left, but there were plenty of them in the canyon. Our immediate goal was to find the Flame-colored Tanager that had been reported just down the hill the day before our arrival. I'd read an article in Birding magazine about a male Flame-colored Tanager that had paired with a Western Tanager in Madera Canyon a few years before. The pair had produced hybrid young, including a male that looked like a somewhat faded Flame-colored Tanager. We wanted to see a bona fide Flame-colored Tanager and hoped that this bird was just that. It was easy to find it - we just looked for the knot of other birders standing on the road, looking up into the Arizona sycamores, and watched for movement. Soon it hopped out from behind the leaves, looking as orange as an oriole. Before returning to the Chuparosa for breakfast we'd seen a total of three FLAME-COLORED TANAGERS. Scratching in the fallen leaves we also chanced upon a pair of YELLOW-EYED JUNCOS, attractive birds that look like the chestnut-backed western race of the Dark-eyed Junco except for their fiery orange-yellow eyes, which give them a fierce rather than shy persona.
April, Bill, and the puppy at the Chuparosa Inn.
Luiz, Bill, and April at the Chuparosa Inn.
A beautiful Arizona sycamore (Platanus wrightii) along Madera Creek.
We decided to walk back to the Chuparosa via the rocky creek rather than by the road. Here in the closed canopy we couldn't watch for hawks, my passion, so I was able to concentrate on songbirds. In the streamside trees were brick-colored HEPATIC TANAGERS, scads of Acorn Woodpeckers drilling holes everywhere, more Black-headed Grosbeaks, and lots of House Finches. A bright flash of crimson low over the creek caught April's attention. She studied the bird carefully, calling out field marks: red breast and belly, black head, wings, and tail, and a lot of white in the wings - PAINTED REDSTART! That was one of our target species, a specialty of the "sky islands" and not to be found in the lower areas. Hearing a call that sounded like a barking dog, we tracked it to the source - another Elegant Trogon. Another elusive singer turned out to be the first of scores of BLACK-THROATED GRAY WARBLERS. We met a group of birders from Alaska and could only imagine what they must be feeling in an area in such sharp contrast with their own.
Luis was already busy making breakfast at the Chuparosa. The aroma of fresh coffee and blueberry pancakes was mouth-watering, but before we got to those we enjoyed a special appetizer that Luis had made, a sundae with bananas, blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, and grated coconut and other nuts, all swimming in yogurt. April said it was to die for. My favorite food at the Chuparosa was the maple link sausage. Luiz had a library of books on Madera Canyon and the surrounding area, some of which I browsed through for ideas of where to spend the day. Luiz had been birding that week and gave us specific locations at which he thought we'd have the best change of finding the species we sought.
We decided to think it over while sitting on the patio watching the hummingbird feeders, which were attracting mostly Black-chinned, BROAD-BILLED, and MAGNIFICENT HUMMINGBIRDS. PINE SISKINS clung to stocking feeders, extracting niger seed. The feeders out back, near the stream, attracted a flock of MEXICAN JAYS, and Lesser Goldfinches pulled seeds from the thistle feeder. A brilliant orange BULLOCK'S ORIOLE preferred to sip from oranges set out specifically for them. A medium-sized woodpecker quietly working on a branch of a streamside tree looked different from any I'd seen before, with a solid brown back. It was an ARIZONA WOODPECKER, another specialty of the area and a "life bird" for both of us. There were lots of insects hatching, and the insect-eating birds were busy catching them. Among them we found DUSKY-CAPPED FLYCATCHERS, which frequently uttered a short, descending, sad-sounding whistle, much larger and noisier BROWN-CRESTED FLYCATCHERS, good numbers of slow-moving, lead-colored PLUMBEOUS VIREOS, and lots of AMERICAN ROBINS, which were far more common at high elevations than at low. The second most common thrush, next to robin, was HERMIT THRUSH. Along the creek and along streams throughout the area we found friendly BLACK PHOEBES, which in color resemble huge juncos. All the time we were at the Chuparosa, a pair of Elegant Trogons hung out along the stream behind the inn.
A visitor stopped by the Inn to ask if there were any vacancies. Luiz had given us first right of refusal when a reservation for tonight had been cancelled, so he came over to ask us if we'd like to stay another night. That had been our original plan, so we jumped at the chance and were able to cancel our reservation at the Baymont in Green Valley without any penalty. We were overjoyed at the prospect of moving into an even nicer room than our first one.
Luiz convinced us that our best bet was to bird the area around Sprung Spring, a 5-mile-roundtrip hike up the Old Baldy Trail just past Josephine Saddle (elev. 7,080 ft.) from the Chuparosa Inn. The trail was well marked and not very steep but it was rocky and climbed steadily uphill the whole way. We were constantly using muscles that had been underused in the flatlands of Indiana. We took it easy and made plenty of rest stops, which I needed more than April because I was carrying the knapsack with the water in it. And I'm 10 years older and 50 pounds heavier than she is. And I'm prone to bird best while not moving. The hike took us about five hours, and we were pretty tired by the time we returned to the Inn.
Mt. Wrightson as seen from the Vault Mine Trail to Josephine Saddle.
Rock outcroppings above the trail.
One of the many DYCs that grew along the trail.
Flowers along the trail.
The Old Baldy trail wound through beautiful groves of pine/oak. After the first hour we had fabulous views of Mt. Wrightson towering above us to the east and the constant throng of ravens playing in the wind above its summit. Throughout the week we'd be viewing this distinctive peak from wherever we were, until we'd put the Huachuca Mountains between it and us. Along the trail we found our first RED-FACED WARBLERS of the trip and had scrumptious views of this crimson, silver, and white mite of a bird. Almost as pretty were the GRACE'S WARBLERS that sang from the oaks and pines on the slopes. The rhythmic tooting of two NORTHERN PYGMY-OWLS alerted us to their presence, but they both turned silent long before we reached the areas from which the sounds had emanated. It seemed like every hundred yards another Dusky-capped Flycatcher would begin to whistle its single melancholy note. Plumbeous Vireos were among the most vocal birds along the trail, which was hardly what one might call "birdy". Tiny HUTTON'S VIREOS looked so much like Ruby-crowned Kinglets that we had to check each one carefully. Most songs that we tracked down belonged to Bridled Titmice, which seemed positively friendly and sometimes followed us for a short distance after we'd passed through their territory.
After several hours of climbing and resting, we reached a broad area that, although wooded, was more parklike than forest. This was Josephine Saddle, a major crossroads in the Santa Ritas. We took advantage of the cool breeze to sit down and rest under the oaks. Our destination was a mere 0.2 mile down a side trail. We passed a wooden memorial to three Boy Scouts who died there on November 15, 1958: David Greenberg, 12, Mike Early, 16, and Michael J. LaNoue, 13. Apparently they had gotten lost and were then hit by a storm that dumped three feet of snow on the Santa Ritas.
Fascinating patterns in weathered conifer wood.
Bill and April in the oak/juniper woodland.
Sprung Spring was marked by a concrete cistern into which dripped cold spring water. The only bird of note was our first STELLER'S JAY, staying crouched down in the distant pines. We were pretty done in, so after enjoying the canyon scenery we hiked almost nonstop back down the mountain to the Chuparosa. At the one stop we did make, we enjoyed watching TURKEY VULTURES pulling tight circles in the sky above us. One of them was pulling circled too tight that we decided to check it out more closely, thus providing ourselves with prolonged, satisfying looks at a ZONE-TAILED HAWK. We had better-view-desired looks at WESTERN WOOD-PEWEE and decided later, after we'd had fine looks at the species, that we'd seen all there was to see the first time, since the bird is essentially all gray-brown. The afternoon was waning, and we wondered about the people who were passing us, headed up the mountain, carrying no drinking water or warm clothes. At the picnic tables at the end of Madera Canyon Road we stopped to lure a flock of MEXICAN JAYS up close, as I'd been able to do with Phil on my last trip here.
As we hadn't known we'd be spending another night at this splendid site, we'd brought no food for dinner. The closest grocery store was back in Green Valley, so we headed there after cleaning up. We made several stops along the way. We stopped once to observe a stick nest of a Red-tailed Hawk on the crossbeam of a telephone pole along the road. Every time we passed, one of the parents was standing guard in the nest, protecting two chicken-sized fuzzy white nestlings. Along the same stretch of road, also on a telephone pole, was the nest of a pair of CHIHUAHUAN RAVENS.
We stopped to explore a huge pecan grove just outside of town and again at a bridge over the Santa Cruz River. Here, mostly flying below us, were scores of CLIFF SWALLOWS. We looked closely but in vain for any Cave Swallows.
Luis had offered to turn on his outdoor gas grill if we bought steaks, so we took him up on his offer, purchasing some at the Safeway in Green Valley, along with trail mix and other nonperishable foodstuffs. We stopped again on our way back to Madera Canyon to watch the Red-tailed Hawk and her chicks on the telephone pole and at dusk at Florida Wash, which yielded a calling COMMON POORWILL. Before arriving back at the Chuparosa we stopped at the Santa Rita Lodge and waited amid the throng birders and mosquitoes for perhaps the most observed ELF OWL in the world to appear. Right on schedule, at 7:18 p.m. it popped into view in one of its telephone-pole nest holes, dropped back out of sight, reappeared, then flew swiftly and silently into the darkness.
Back at the Chuparosa we grilled our steaks in the dark (except for electric lights), listening to the sizzle of the meat and the splashing of the creek, ate, then retired early.
MONDAY, MAY 2
Leaving the Chuparosa was almost emotional - the yogurt and pancake breakfasts were so yummy and the company of Luis and the others was so welcoming. April and I birded the grounds, participated in hummingbird trapping, banding, and release, watched the feeders, hiked along the creek, and otherwise enjoyed the ambience of the high elevation coolness. April had never held a hummingbird in her hand before, so that was a thrilling experience. To trap hummingbirds, circular nets had been placed over the nectar feeders several days in advance so the birds would become accustomed to their presence. On trapping day a person would wait some distance from a feeder, holding a string that would be pulled when a hummer came to the feeder. The string would release the net, which would fall and enclose the feeder and the hummingbird. Later we were told that some hummers caught by this method sometimes didn't return to the feeders for weeks, so there had been a gradual lessening in trapping pressure throughout s.e. Arizona.
April releasing a newly banded Broad-billed Hummingbird.
Releasing a newly banded Magnificent Hummingbird.
Releasing a newly banded Broad-billed Hummingbird.
Bidding farewell to Luis, we drove north out of Madera Canyon to the foothills, stopping to explore Florida Wash. Midmorning is less productive there than dawn, but we had some nice birds, including plenty of Verdins and Black-throated Sparrows. The best bird was one that April found creeping on the ground near a leaking hose that ejected a fine spray of water - a MACGILLIVRAY'S WARBLER. Here we tracked down, by song, one of the many Bell's Vireos of the trip. This bird seemed to prefer thick thorn scrub, where they kept well inside, singing constantly.
April among the mesquites in Florida Wash.
Ocotillo in full bloom.
We then headed northeast on dirt/gravel roads through Box Canyon, crossing the Santa Ritas through high elevation grasslands, stopping wherever we felt like it. Intimate canyons provided closer views of the common species than we had had before. At one stop we watched a GOLDEN EAGLE soar over the cliffs above us. At another we picked out one of the few ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLERS of the trip. The silence was extraordinary at many of our stops. We could hear a single bird singing at an amazing distance when there was no breeze. The dominant color was reddish-brown, with waxy-green foliage and predominantly yellow flowers on the abundant DYCs ("damn yellow composites"). All of the trees seemed to be restricted to the canyons; the hills and prairies had a few shrubs but mostly grass. By the time we reached the crossroad town of Sonoita, we were in the midst of extensive knee-high grasslands. Here we found birds of the westernmost breeding area of the EASTERN MEADOWLARK (subspecies lilianae), which looked every bit as pale as their Western Meadowlark counterparts. LARK SPARROWS perched on the barbed-wire fences, and NORTHERN ROUGH-WINGED SWALLOWS and BARN SWALLOWS hawked for insects over the grasslands.
Turning south, we quickly reached the town of Patagonia and checked into the Stage Stop Inn ($89.84 for a double), where Phil Olsen and I had stayed in April 2001. The place looked the same - a few cars parked on the wide street, cowboy hats were in fashion, and the sun beat down fiercely on the pavement. Several pairs of Barn Swallows were nesting under the eaves; the male and female of each pair roosted on the nests together at night. We unpacked, took a brief siesta, and then headed across town to visit Paton's Birder Haven, the legendary yard of the late Wally and Marian Paton. Before we'd even entered the yard, April scored a life bird - a brilliant red-and-black mite that she immediately identified as a VERMILION FLYCATCHER.
Barn swallows nesting at the Stage Stop Inn in Patagonia.
The Patons had established a fine backyard habitat that included a bubbling brook dashing over concrete and rocks, seed and thistle feeders, and grain spread on the ground. The primary attraction, though, were the numerous hummingbird feeders, which attracted VIOLET-CROWNED, Magnificent, Black-chinned, ANNA'S, and BROAD-TAILED HUMMINGBIRDS. The Patons had placed folding chairs under an awning for the comfort of visiting birders. The action was all around us - ABERT'S and SPOTTED TOWHEES scratched on the ground for seeds. A COOPER'S HAWK made the rounds, flushing all the birds away from the feeders, as did the locally nesting GRAY HAWKS and ZONE-TAILED HAWKS. Behind us, hardly noticeable among the finches and sparrows, a flock of COMMON GROUND-DOVES foraged. The southwestern race of the NORTHERN CARDINAL sports an enormous crest that was almost comical to us. They would have put our eastern birds to shame. I spotted a skulking LINCOLN'S SPARROW in the wetland vegetation behind the Patons' yard. One of the best birds we found there was a lovely male LAZULI BUNTING decked in its breeding plumage of sky-blue, orange, and white. It fed with a flock of White-crowned Sparrows. Amid the abundant Lesser Goldfinches, a single blazing yellow AMERICAN GOLDFINCH stood out like a fluorescent light. PINE SISKINS were abundant at the thistle feeders. Their calls sounded to me like tearing cloth. Both BROWN-HEADED and BRONZED COWBIRDS frequented the feeders, too.
As we were leaving the Patons', we met Robin Baxter, a caretaker who has lived in the neighborhood for many years. He was photographing a newly returned pair of one of my most sought-after species, THICK-BILLED KINGBIRD. We crossed a shallow concrete ford where Sonoita Creek crosses the road and drove along the fenced-in periphery of The Nature Conservancy's Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve for several miles. This 300-acre stretch of wetland is lies between the Patagonia and the Santa Rita mountains. It's dominated by Arizona black walnut, velvet mesquite, velvet ash, canyon hackberry, and various willows and offers some of the richest riparian (streamside) habitat in the region. A flycatcher that defined the color gray in every way turned out to be a GRAY FLYCATCHER, a bird we had been told was not easy to find. We had more views of Gray Hawks, dust-colored SAY'S PHOEBES, and several sightings of high-flying WHITE-THROATED SWIFTS, but birding was slow. We pulled off at the Patagonia Rest Area, famous to birders because of all the rarities that have been seen here. Our best bird was a friendly Rock Wren that sang over and over as it foraged among the rocky outcroppings. We enjoyed the spectacular view of towering rocks, then drove back the few miles to Patagonia for dinner at the Stage Stop Inn and a good night's sleep.
Sunburned-looking Opuntia cactus.
Interesting Opuntia cactus with each segment at 180° angle from the one above and below it.
Flowers bloom above wood charred in a forest fire.
TUESDAY, MAY 3
Up and checked out at dawn, we headed back to the Patagonia Roadside Rest Area to see if the Rose-throated Becards had returned from their wintering grounds. They hadn't, but a tiny, fearless NORTHERN BEARDLESS-TYRANNULET more than made up for it. This chickadee-sized insect-eater looked exactly like its counterpart in Trinidad, the Southern Beardless-Tyrannulet. The day was uncomfortably cool and breezy. The birdlife was remarkably invisible. Other than hearing a few WARBLING VIREOS, we found only lush vegetation to admire.
Continuing southwest toward the border town of Nogales, we made a long birding stop at isolated Patagonia Lake. We parked at the eastern end of the lake and walked very slowly through thick willow groves and along cattail marshes. We found an Empidonax flycatcher, studied the field marks- almost constant tail and wing flicking and a white eye-ring that tapered like a tear-drop at the back - and identified it as a HAMMOND'S FLYCATCHER. Scanning the lake we picked up two odd species for this time of year: a FRANKLIN'S GULL, which should have been much farther north by then, and a SNOW GOOSE that we decided that it might have been injured and thus unable to migrate north with its flock. Also out in the open water we saw PIED-BILLED and EARED GREBES, NORTHERN SHOVELER, LESSER SCAUP, and RUDDY DUCKs coming into their breeding plumage. Seeing ducks in the desert seemed ironic. Skimming just over the water were half a dozen VIOLET-GREEN SWALLOWS.
Bill and April at Patagonia Lake.
April at Patagonia Lake.
In the willow thickets the most common species were COMMON YELLOWTHROAT and Wilson's Warblers. More times during our trip than I'd care to admit, we found sparrows that I was unable to identify at first, all of which turned out to be some race or another of the common SONG SPARROW. The range of color, size, and song of all the different individuals was amazing.
Poppies at Patagonia Lake.
As we rounded a bend in the shoreline, a resting group of birds came into view. In one very rich field of view we could see three NEOTROPIC CORMORANTS, a GREAT BLUE HERON, two WHITE-FACED IBIS, two BLACK-BELLIED WHISTLING-DUCKS, a pair of BLUE-WINGED TEAL with a single bright CINNAMON TEAL, some AMERICAN COOTS, a pair of BLACK-NECKED STILTS, two SOLITARY SANDPIPERS, and one LEAST SANDPIPER. What a haul! In the same place we could hear but never see Common Moorhen, and an amicable VIRGINIA RAIL walked along the mud, picking up insects. Across the lake, a cloud of large whitish birds landed near the shoreline. Through the scope we could identify them as AMERICAN AVOCETS.
Around noon we headed back to the car, stopped at the Lakeside Market for cold drinks and ice cream, then returned to Patagonia and continued on back to Sonoita and east across the desert to the rapidly expanding city of Sierra Vista. In so doing we put the Huachuca Mountains between us and the Santa Ritas. The Huachucas are famous for the wide variety of birds that are found there in the deep eastward-facing canyons. The most productive canyons include Garden, Miller, Ramsey, Scheelite, and Sawmill Canyons, some of which are on the grounds of Fort Huachuca.
We stopped in Sierra Vista to enjoy my favorite kind of bird -KFC chicken - then continued south to within a few miles of Mexico. Turning west onto Miller Canyon Road, we climbed several thousand feet, leaving the desert scrub behind for the same oak woodland we'd enjoyed in Madera Canyon. Our destination was Beatty's Miller Canyon Guest Ranch & Orchard. Long known to locals as a source of pesticide-free apples, eggs, honey, and beeswax, their property is one of the hottest hummingbird-watching spot in Arizona. Owners Tom and Edith Beatty had fed birds around their home and rental cabins for years. In the spring of 1998, they added a hummingbird feeding station and /butterfly garden. They quickly attracted 15 species of hummingbirds (up to 13 species simultaneously) along with a variety of hybrids.
Arriving at Beatty's, we met one of the Beatty's, Edith, who showed us to our 100-year-old bungalow ("Green Cabin") and explained a little about the workings of their ranch. Besides renting out cabins to birders, the Beatty's had an apple orchard, garden, and until recently, an aviary that produced excellent honey. Edith said that she'd quit working that part of the business because of all the heavy lifting involved.
Our "Green Cabin" at Beatty's with the apple orchard in the foreground.
One of the most interesting biological phenomena to be seen in Miller Canyon was right outside our door. The Beatty's had constructed a small concrete pond, in which they were caring for a very rare, endangered species of frog - the Ramsey Canyon Leopard Frog. As the name signifies, the species came from nearby Ramsey Canyon, where it was threatened for various reasons. The Nature Conservancy owned the area where the frog lived and had a committee working on a rescue plan, but all of the frogs in Ramsey Canyon died while they were discussing the rescue plan. Fortunately, people like the Beatty's had taken a few of the frogs and bred them outside the threatened area and had literally saved them from extinction. Every time we climbed the stairs beside the pond, the adults would dive underwater with loud splashes. The tadpoles were very large, the size of my thumb.
Conspicuous around our cabin were Guinea Fowl. They were everywhere, calling constantly and scurrying furtively through the grass. Edith told us that they had brought them in to eat grasshoppers off the apple trees. They were very effective. We found one female sitting on a nest in some ivy just outside our cabin door. Under her were at least 20 eggs, which we found out later were not all hers. Guinea Fowl females practice egg-dumping, with multiple females laying their eggs in one nest. Tom Beatty Sr. told us that this first clutch usually didn't hatch out and that we should have some for breakfast. We passed on that offer.
As I was talking with Tom, a large falcon flew over. I called out "PEREGRINE FALCON!" He agreed with the identification and told me that for several years they'd nested on a ledge high up the canyon just north of his house.
April at Beatty's with the Reef in the background.
Bill at Beatty's with the Reef in the background.
In the early evening we walked around the grounds and climbed the trails leading to the upper cabins. The hummingbird feeders up there were very active, with all of the regulars as well as our first CALLIOPE HUMMINGBIRDS. The legs of this species were so short that the birds could not perch and drink, as they could not reach the opening in the feeder that way. They had to hover over the hole while they drank. Here, too, we viewed our first BLUE-THROATED HUMMINGBIRDS, almost the size of sparrows. We enjoyed the expertise of Tom Beatty Jr., who had lived his entire life on the ranch and still lived in his parents' ranch house.
Farther down the hill, at a different set of feeders, Tom Jr. pointed out a very large hummer, a hybrid between a Magnificent Hummingbird and a Berylline Hummingbird. It was clearly dominant over all the others, drinking whenever it felt like it. The nearest Berylline Hummingbirds of which I knew had nested in Madera Canyon, 30 or 40 miles away. (When I got back home, I found a photograph of the same individual in the latest issue of Birding magazine.) The mosquitoes and gnats were ferocious, which made sitting still on a bench rather challenging. As the light faded, we made our way back to the cabin by a much shorter, steeper trail. For dinner we headed back down Miller Canyon to the highway, then north to Sierra Vista's Outback Steakhouse. Afterwards we visited the adjacent Food City to stock up on supplies.
The temperature in the heights was surprisingly low. We lit a fire in the wood stove and sat in its light, thinking about what it must have been like living in that cabin in the early 1900s. Arizona hadn't even become a state when people were living in the cabin. April picked out the husky-throated call of the southwestern race of WHIP-POOR-WILL calling on the hillside. The southwestern Whip-poor-wills' call is very different from that of our eastern race, so different that ornithologists might split it off as a separate species soon. Its voice is reminiscent of that of a heavy smoker, hoarse and low.
WEDNESDAY, MAY 4
On my visit with Phil in 2001, we'd skipped hiking up Scheelite Canyon to find the Spotted Owls, so I wanted to try for them this time around. April and I decided that our legs were almost pain-free again after our climb to Sprung Spring, so decided to skip the Miller Canyon trails and instead head north to Sierra Vista and head west into another set of canyons in the Huachuca Mountains. We packed plenty of water for the day. April had gotten me into the habit of drinking far more water than I was used to, and it seemed to help fend off fatigue. We arrived at the Fort Huachuca main gate, passed through security, and headed by paved road through grass and scrub habitat to the mouth of Garden Canyon. We drove a few miles up into the canyon and parked at the trailhead leading into Scheelite Canyon. At the trailhead was a metal plaque set into rock, in tribute to the late "Smitty" (Robert T.) Smith, a local birder and conservationist who spent years of selfless service protecting the owls and guiding more than 6,000 visiting birders up the canyon to see the owls.
Looking west at the Huachuca Mountains from Fort Huachuca.
The common species along the trail were Black-throated Gray Warbler, Black-headed Grosbeak, Bridled Titmouse, Mexican Jays, and (amazingly) Painted Redstarts. Shortly after entering the canyon we met some birders who were leaving, having seen the owls. They described to us their location, noting a rock formation that looked like a shark with an open mouth ("Jaws") and a rock that looked like it had been split and then pushed together again. With those marks in mind we set off up the canyon. One stretch of mature Arizona Sycamore was especially productive, with Elegant Trogon, Red-faced Warbler, and Painted Redstart visible simultaneously. There were also long stretches devoid of birds but which offered splendid opportunities for botanizing or geologizing.
Bill and April at the Scheelite Canyon trailhead.
Agaves along the Scheelite Canyon trail.
Cliffs above Scheelite Canyon.
One memorable spot was a flat-bottomed steep-sided dry chute of a creek bottom. Here in the cool shade we rested. Soon a CANYON WREN popped out from beneath an overhang. Singing and probing, it hopped closer and closer, grabbing insects and inspecting every inch of the rock wall. At one point it was at the close-focus distance for my binoculars, which is about six feet. It had a head shape that was perfect for sticking it into crevices in sedimentary-rock walls - a flat head with little more than skull and feathers above the eyes. While the wren moved all around, a pair of devilish-looking Yellow-eyed Juncos foraged quietly in the gravel.
April and I watched carefully for Jaws and found it without difficulty. From there on we walked much slower, looking down before us for the split rock. We never found it. At one point I flushed a pair of MONTEZUMA QUAIL, of which I had a poor look and April had none. Onward we climbed, until it became obvious that we'd hiked far beyond the most heavily used stretch of trail. We sat down to reconnoiter and decide what to do. April glanced back down the trail and saw something yellow moving across the trail we'd just crossed. We walked back a few yards to see what it was. It turned out to be a very colorful and enormous Black-tailed Rattlesnake (Crotalus molossus). It was docile enough, showing no alarm as we photographed it from a discreet distance of several yards. Neither of us had seen such a brightly colored rattlesnake before. Later we learned that because of their lack of aggression, the locals call them the Gentlemen Jim of rattlesnakes. Nevertheless, we watched ever so diligently for more snakes as we turned back and headed down the canyon.
The rock formation called "Jaws".
The Black-tailed Rattlesnake that April found.
Big-toothed maple (Acer grandidentatum) in Scheelite Canyon.
And there was the SPOTTED OWL!
Spotted Owl in Scheelite Canyon.
Sitting in the mottled shade of an oak tree and viewed against the mottled background of fallen leaves and rocks was the mottled back of the owl. It was almost the size of a football and the same color as the soil, rocks, and tree bark around it. If it hadn't been sitting in such an exposed situation, it's doubtful that we ever would have found it. April squeezed off a few shots of it, not expecting anything of high quality, yet the owl is clearly identifiable in the shots. This was such a dramatic and unexpected find that we both stood there with tears running down our cheeks. That sure doesn't happen very often on birding trips. Well, tears of joy that is. Our four hours of searching had made our success that much sweeter.
Yellow columbine in Scheelite Canyon.
A weary Bill after the Spotted Owl quest.
Back at the trailhead we picked up the car and drove down to the Upper Picnic Area, where the first bird we saw was a lifer for both of us - a tiny BUFF-BREASTED FLYCATCHER, the peewee of the empid family, making short flights from the top of a streamside cottonwood. This tiny bird had eluded me on previous visits, so I was glad to have found one at last.
To celebrate, we each had a blizzard at the closest Dairy Queen in Sierra Vista.
Lower Scheelite Canyon.
Wildflowers along the trail.
THURSDAY, MAY 5
Today we got very lucky. Veteran hummingbird specialist and head of the Southeast Arizona Bird Observatory, Sherri Williamson, was meeting a group of birders near our cabin for a guided birding trip. We met her and paid the $15/person fee to join the group. What a lovely person she is - and as enthusiastic as if she were seeing each bird for the first time. She pointed out the calls of many species, including CORDILLERAN FLYCATCHER, a look-alike with the also-possible Pacific-slope flycatcher and a species I probably would not have had the confidence to identify. At one point she confirmed as a NORTHERN GOSHAWK a large bird that April spotted as it blew past us, visible through a gap in the foliage. April had the level-headedness to call out as "Raptor!" rather than put a name on it. We heard and then saw a HOUSE WREN that Sherri surmised belonged to a race formerly regarded as a separate species, Brown-throated Wren. Later we found our only CASSIN'S VIREO of the trip, basically a Plumbeous Vireo with a lead-colored head.
I've found that in places foreign to me I can learn as much with a good local guide in an hour as I can alone in half a day; Sherri confirmed that fact for southeast Arizona. Not only was she adept at quickly identifying birds by sound and sight, she also was a keen botanist who could identify the trees, shrubs, and flowers.
The morning passed all too quickly, and then it was time to pack up and head to our next destination. With a nostalgic backward look at our cabin and a grateful farewell to the Beatty's, we drove out of Miller Canyon, north through Sierra Vista, and hit the highway east.
Not far east of Sierra Vista, at the bottom of a very long, gradual decline, was the San Pedro Riparian Area, a lush green belt of riverside trees that extended from the Mexican border north beyond the range of visibility. This area is famous as a concentration point for birds during migration, but we found it to be only decent during late morning and early afternoon. Our main challenge was the hot, dry wind - a sirocco - which whisked away our perspiration and made us continually thirsty. We parked at the visitors' center and hiked several miles in a huge loop that took us through fields, around a pond, downstream (north) along the river, then back to the visitors' center. Some of the new birds for us here included Yellow-breasted Chat and Summer Tanager. We studied a pair of sparrows for awhile that were feeding on sandbars. Their base color was honey-brown, unlike any other sparrows I'd seen. When one of them finally sang, it was clear that they were only Song Sparrows, but of a race I'd never seen before.
We made a slow circuit through the city of Bisbee, which at one time was the largest city between St. Louis and San Francisco. It reminded me of Ellicott City, Maryland, with boutiques and cafes built on steep hills in an intimate canyon. On the southeastern side of town, a gigantic open-pit copper mine dominated the view.
From Bisbee we continued to the border city of Douglas. The ambience was one of arid optimism, with cactus gardens and pretty plantings in the downtown area. We passed a Border Patrol headquarters and drove to within a few hundred yards of Mexico before heading for a Safeway for groceries and a Wal-Mart for an ice chest.
This was the only point during the trip during which we saw gritty poverty. In the sizzling hot Wal-Mart parking lot, for example, a young Mexican mother and her two young daughters moved from patron to patron, offering homemade cookies in sandwich bags. We bought some from them in large part in appreciation for the effort they were making to make a livelihood. In the Wal-Mart we saw one young child whose left arm and hand had been grievously burned.
One of my favorite stretches of the trip was the drive from Douglas to Portal. Tall blonde grasslands rippled in the breeze on both sides, traffic was almost nonexistent, distant mountains served as progress meters, and an occasional bird, mammal, or reptile kept things interesting. Here we saw some of the rather scarce AMERICAN KESTRELS of the trip. The open grasslands seemed perfect for them, with yucca stalks on which to perch and an abundance of rodents and reptiles. April was driving and noticed at once when she ran over a blackish snake. She turned around to see if she had killed it. Amazingly it was still alive, moving quickly, and appeared unhurt. Later, at the Southwest Research Station in the Chiricahua Mountains, we found a picture of it in a book on snakes of the Southwest. It was a Common Kingsnake (Lampropeltis getula).
We followed a broad dirt road along the Arizona/New Mexico state line for a couple of miles Portal Road. The strikingly beautiful Chiricahua Mountains lay just ahead of us as we climbed slowly up a long east grade. About a mile shy of Portal we turned left onto Portal Road, unlatched a swinging gate, drove through, relatched the gate, and arrived at our home for the next two days, Chiricahua Cottage. We unpacked, then explored the immediate area on foot.
An industrious pair of Cactus Wrens had completely filled the space between two porch rafters with twigs, thus creating an enormous nest. Coming around the corner of the house I surprised a GREATER ROADRUNNER that slept on the porch atop a window air conditioner. It burst into flight off the porch, gliding to the edge of the brush before landing. It stood just inside the brush peeking at me warily.
On the periphery of the property April spotted a "Cottontop" or SCALED QUAIL calling regularly as it stood atop a bush. Black-throated Sparrows kept us company with their lively songs. We walked to the entrance road and headed south toward the distant mountains. Other than a few Lucy's Warblers and House Finches, the brush was quiet and seemingly birdless.
For dinner we visited the Portal Store, which also serves as the front desk for the Portal Peak Lodge and which is the only place in town (year-round population: 60) to get food. Afterwards we drove a few miles into Cave Creek Canyon, following South Fork. We stopped to listen for night birds, hearing mostly nothing but finally picking up the distant trill of our only LESSER NIGHTHAWK of the trip.
April, Sherri Williamson, and Bill at Beatty's.
FRIDAY, MAY 6
Today we decided to start by doing a round-up of the lowlands, looking for birds around Portal, nearby Rodeo, New Mexico, and in the surrounding Chihuahuan Desert. We drove to Dave Jasper's house and had the good fortune to meet him as he was leaving for several days in California. He gave us permission to walk the area behind his house. April spotted a snake warming itself on the gravel road. It turned out to be another King Snake, a regular morning visitor to his neighborhood.
Dave Jasper's feeders are well known for their amazing capability at drawing in scores of species of birds. We sat in the comfortable lawn chairs he had provided watching Gambel's Quail, Curve-billed and BENDIRE'S THRASHERS, Lazuli Bunting, Bullock's and HOODED ORIOLES, Green-tailed and Canyon Towhees, White-crowned Sparrows, and about 20 other species of birds. It felt decadent to sit there and watch these glorious birds come and go while we basked at the perfect temperature in the shade of a tree.
We enjoyed watching the feeders at the Portal Store and around the house next to it. Besides hummingbirds, there was an abundance of Acorn Woodpeckers and orioles frequenting the feeders. We explored the very short street to its end and then continued a few hundred feet to Cave Creek. This rock-bottomed stream was a magnet for birds. Along with the more common species we spotted a robust-looking dove in the top of a dead tree. Through my binocs I could see a yellow bill -- our first BAND-TAILED PIGEON. Phil Olsen had shown me my first Band-tailed Pigeon high up in the Chiricahuas in 1991. I hadn't seen it at all during my only previous visit, to I'd assumed it was a rare species of only the highest elevations. I'd held scant hope for seeing any on this trip. So I was amazed when we saw perhaps another 100 during the next few hours. In fact, Band-tailed Pigeon was the most abundant species along Cave Creek that day.
Again we had dinner at the Portal Store, where we got directions to a nest hole of a pair of MEXICAN CHICKADEES at Rustler Park, high up in the Chiricahuas. We were planning to bird that area anyway, so off we went. This is an incredible road. Once the pavement ends, so do the guardrails. In places the road is bordered on one side by nearly vertical cliff faces and on the other by
air! The drop from the roadside in many places looks is nearly vertical to the person who's not driving.
We were impressed by how cold it was at the high elevations and how underdressed we were. The mountain lupines were gorgeous. Arriving at the described spot, we found that the only sound was the sighing of the wind through the pines. No sign of any birds. We walked around. No birds. Shivering, we gave ourselves 30 minutes to find the chickadee. We planned to leave before we began to suffer from hypothermia. We walked, listened, pished, walked, and then we found a lively mixed flock of small birds that included MEXICAN CHICKADEE along with PYGMY NUTHATCH, BROWN CREEPER, YELLOW-RUMPED (Audubon's race) WARBLER, and OLIVE WARBLER about half a mile from the original spot. Did I mention that it was cold up there? We didn't linger. On our return trip we took a different road, this one leading through the tiny hamlet of Paradise, then back to Portal from the northwest. Along the way we added GOLDEN-CROWNED KINGLET and WESTERN TANAGER to our trip list.
SATURDAY, MAY 7
This morning we packed once again and moved almost into town, to Myrtle Kraft Cottage. After settling in, we drove to Dave Jasper's house and birded that area for awhile, along the road and then near his feeders. I had been studying every gray Vermivora warbler I could find, looking for one with a yellow, not rusty, rump. Rusty rump meant Lucy's, of which we'd seen a bunch; yellow rump would mean Virginia's, which I had glimpsed before but never had an opportunity to study at length. Along the dry creek bed near Dave's house I finally lucked into a VIRGINIA'S WARBLER. April and I watched it for about five minutes as it foraged in the acacia scrub, flitting about and frequently displaying its yellow rump. Lucy's Warblers were in the area, allowing a good comparison of the two species.
In late afternoon we drove to the parking lot at the trailhead of the South Fork Cave Creek trail and started hiking along the creek. We hadn't gone far before we spotted a very attractive black, red, and-white snake slithering through the brush near us. Later we decided it had been a Sonoran Mountain Kingsnake (Lampropeltis pyromelana).
We hiked and birded our way for several miles along the South Fork of Cave Creek Trail, our target bird being GREATER PEWEE. We stopped frequently to listen for its distinctive "José Maria" call (I'm not joking). After a long time we heard one. It sang only once, far below us along the creek. Although we waited and scanned the tops of dead snags intently, the bird remained hidden and silent. We did find a number of WHITE-BREASTED NUTHATCHES. In the process of exploring the trail we missed a turn and walked an extra mile or two. All turned out well, though and we enjoyed another tasty dinner at (where else?) the Portal Store.
SUNDAY, MAY 8
Packed up again one last time, left Portal, and headed back to Phoenix via Willcox. We took the paved highway this time, into New Mexico and north to the hamlet of Road Forks, where we picked up I-10. From there we drove west to Willcox. The guide book said that it was commonplace to see Harris' Hawks east of Willcox, perched on telephone poles. I'd been through that area at least three times before without seeing any hawks of any kind, so I was amazed when April pointed out a large, very dark hawk perched on a telephone pole. We coasted to a stop and took a closer look through our binoculars. Sure enough, we were looking at a fine example of an adult HARRIS' HAWK, my first for North America. April slowly walked to within about 50 feet of it before it leisurely spread its wings and glided to the next telephone pole, showing us its prominent tail, basal half white, distal half chocolate. Less than a mile farther we spotted a second Harris' Hawk on another telephone pole. Just icing on the cake.
We spent an hour slowly driving around the Willcox lakes, where we found an abundance of birds that were new for the trip: WILLET, KILLDEER, SPOTTED SANDPIPER, WESTERN SANDPIPER, LONG-BILLED DOWITCHER, WILSON'S PHALAROPE, RED-NECKED PHALAROPE, and HORNED LARK. It was already getting hot. The water was like a steamy mirror.
I was dying for some fried chicken, so we puttered around Willcox until we found a KFC. I'm always amazed at how easy it is not to be able to get somewhere that's in plain sight in one of these seemingly gridwork towns. We practically perimetered the western and northern sides of town before finding a through street.
From Willcox we drove nonstop to Phoenix. As we passed through Tucson, I glanced up and noticed a very large, pure white bird flapping slowly along, high above the city. It was our only GREAT EGRET of the trip. One of April's goals was to eat at a Carl Jr's, which we did. She ordered a Carl Jr., much to the confusion of the clerk, who had to inform her that there was no such thing. We settled for some excellent burgers instead.
Our flight home left Phoenix at 4:45 p.m. We took off directly west, and then turned north, where I quickly ran out of recognizable landmarks. I saw the Rockies bearing west at one point rather than north and realized I was quite lost. Then my iRiver began picking up strangely northern cities in Utah, then Wyoming, then Nebraska, by which time I'd figured out that we were taking a much different route on the return leg than we had on our arrival. With no surprises or adventures, we arrived back in Indianapolis at 10:10 p.m.
Chuparosa Inn in Madera Canyon. The Chuparosa Inn is located 40 miles southeast of Tucson, nestled in the heart of Madera Canyon. "It offers a wonderful environment for couples with a romantic heart, nature lovers, hiking and biking enthusiasts, or anyone who enjoys meeting others in a relaxed atmosphere. At an elevation of 5300 ft (2450m), this area offers four mild seasons, over 305 days of sunshine, and an average summer temperature of 85ºF (29ºC)." We paid $110 for the first night, $150 for the second night (different room). We loved it, thought L and were sad to leave. Info: Chuparosa Inn.
Beatty's Miller Canyon Guest Ranch & Orchard Our Guest Ranch is nestled into the Huachuca mountain range at an elevation of 5800 ft., creating a unique environment for all kinds of nature to flourish. Since March 1967, we have called this area home, and in May 1997 we decided to open it up to visitors to share the many joys such natural beauty offers. We quickly discovered that this one-of-a-kind wilderness area is a haven for an astounding variety of hummingbirds, and in fact, have become best known for the countless viewing opportunities our property presents. While reportedly a birder's paradise, Beatty's Nature Retreat has many other attractions to offer any visitor:
(520) 378-2728. $127.26/night for two people (Green Cabin)
- Hiking amidst the adjacent Miller Peak Wilderness Area on numerous, easily-reached National Forest trails, including the summit of Miller Peak.
- The best views in the Huachucas, along with countless stunning natural sights, such as the gorgeous fall colors framing the San Pedro Valley.
- The chance to spot a whole host of wildlife: including Ramsey Canyon Leopard Frogs, butterflies, coatis, javelinas, white-tailed deer, not to mention our extensive yard list.
- An on-site store offering 25 varieties of home-grown organic apples, locally-produced honey, farm-fresh eggs, delicious vegetables from our own bountiful garden (when in season), birding souvenirs and gifts, as well as a few basic necessities (snacks, sodas, water, etc.).
- Peace and quiet in any one of our 6 cozy overnight accommodations surrounded by our 10-acre apple orchard, Miller Creek and numerous ponds, and supplemented by a variety of comfortable camping options.
- Where one gets more for their $ than other Hereford Area Lodging.
- And finally pure, simple relaxation under the endless Arizona mountain sky.
Chiricahua Cottage "Piet & Mary's Chiricahua Cottages are located at 4800' on 80 quiet and scenic acres at the base of 8500' Portal Peak. See rugged beauty rise up oak-filled rhyolite canyons to sky islands of high elevation pine and fir forests. Grand vistas call you to take in awesome summer thunderstorms marching across the wide valley to light distant mountains with their flashing lightning. Winter is mild, with plenty of sunshine. Delight at the simple pleasures of the rising and setting of the sun and moon, and stars falling through the black sky. The charming air-conditioned, separate guest-house features queen and twin beds, a private full bath, kitchenette with microwave, coffee maker, toaster, mini-refrigerator, ceiling fan and a spacious closet. The entry opens to your private patio for watching the light play on mountains near and far. We supply our own blended coffee and assorted teas." (800) 726-7231/(520) 887-2340. $85 per night for two people)
Great Blue Heron
Common Moorhen (heard only)
Northern Pygmy-Owl (heard only)
Lesser Nighthawk (heard only)
Whip-poor-will (heard only)
Northern Flicker (yellow- and red-shafted)
Greater Pewee (heard only)
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Black-throated Gray Warbler