Sunday, May 23, 2010

Good Birding Days in SE Arizona

The 2 photos above are the last of the hummers taken at the Beatty Guest Ranch. The top photo is of an anna's, and the bottom is of a magnificent. Check out the red gorgette of the anna's, and the stunning green and purple on the head of the magnificent (double click on photo for full close-up).

The past 2 days have generally been very good birding days here in SE Arizona. Yesterday morning I was out of my motel in Willcox at 5:15 AM heading for the south fork of Cave Creek canyon in the Chiracahua mountains. I had heard on Thursday that a northern pygmy owl was seen there a couple of days earlier. After striking out early Wed. morning in the Catalinas, I was hoping for a better result. I began walking a section of the gravel road in the south fork about 7, and after 15 minutes I heard the distinct hoots of the owl. I located the area it was in, but then it moved further down the road. I homed in on its new location when suddenly it flew across the road with a group of small birds chasing after it.

Feeling good about the start of the day since the owl is a new year bird, I stopped at the Portal cafe for some breakfast before starting the drive up to the mountain top. I stopped in for a chat with a woman I met thru Melody. She owns the historic George Walker House in Paradise, and caters mostly to birders.

I then headed up the mountain on the twisting, somewhat rutted in places gravel road. Near a place named onion saddle I heard the song of a virginia warbler. I spent 15 minutes trying to locate this new year bird, but it finally moved far enough off the road that I could not find it.

I made it to Rustler Park about noon and began my search for the mexican chickadee. This bird is similar to the colima warbler in the Chisos Mountains at Big Bend NP in that it only breeds in the Chiracahuas within the U.S. So like the colima in Big Bend, you have to come here to find it. It is nesting season already, so there are not many of them moving about. I spent the entire afternoon looking and listening, mostly near the only water source in Rustler park--a nice flowing spring--because a bird guide I met there said that is where she had been seeing the chickadee over the past few days. I, however, did not.

At dusk I checked another nearby location to see if a northern saw-whet owl might be calling, but found none. I then went down the mountain a short distance to try again for the flammulated owl in hopes of a sighting, not just hearing one as happened on Tuesday nite. It was very windy, so no luck there either. At the Pinery campground where I spent the nite, I also did not hear any whiskered screech owls which almost always are found calling there. Earlier in the afternoon I had stopped in at the campground looking for the chickadee, and instead found a brown creeper--another new year bird.

This morning I awoke just before 5 AM and made the short drive back up to Rustler to try again. The spring area was very quiet, so I walked up to the meadow area of the park. As I was scanning the early morning sky for white-throated swifts I heard the chickadee behind me in the campground. It was very high up in what seemed like 80 foot tall pines. It took me almost 15 minutes of wandering around following its call before I finally got a good look at the bird feeding.

Finding the mexican chickadee was a critical logistical matter for my big year planning. Since I had already missed seeing the buff-collared nightjar earlier in the week, I knew I would need to return to Arizona to try for it again. But I did not want to have to also look for the chickadee since the 2 birds do not breed near each other. Now I can confine my next visit to a much smaller area.

After scoring the chickadee, I headed back down to the Portal cafe for breakfast before starting back towards Sierra Vista. I stopped again at San Pedro for an hour to check out the river area, and then since it was now mid-day and getting pretty warm, I took a break to watch Iron Man 2--my first big screen movie of the year. It was not as good or as funny as the first.

After the movie I went for a hike in Scheelite Canyon which is famous in the birding world because of its spotted owls. The canyon is in a section of the Huachuca mountains right behind Ft. Huachuca. Robert T. Smith known as "Smitty" spent the last 20 years of his life helping people see this rare owl. There is a boulder with a plaque on it to honor his memory. Even though I had seen my spotted owls earlier this week in Miller canyon, as part of my big year, I wanted to hike up this canyon because of its place in birding lore.

The canyon is a beautiful, narrow canyon, with no running water unless it has rained recently. The trail is steep most of the way, but is especially well laid out. It was late in the day, so the bird life was thin. I did not even look for the owls since I just wanted to enjoy the place for itself.

After a quick mexican carne asada burrito, I went to the Sierra Vista wastewater ponds to look for lesser nighthawks. I had seen a nighthawk earlier in the week at Santa Rita lodge in Madera canyon, but it did not call, so given the altitude of the lodge, I was concerned that it might have actually been a common nighthawk that is much rarer here in SE AZ. Just as the sun dropped below the horizon, the sky above the sewage lagoons, which had been filled with barn swallows, was now filled with lots and lots of lesser nighthhawks.

I pointed my rental car towards Tucson to return to my friend's place for the nite. I had to go thru a border patrol checkpoint. As I approached the checkpoint, I saw easily as many lesser nighthawks catching bugs attracted by the kleig lights. Once thru the checkpoint, I pulled over and watched the aerial skills of the birds. At one point 2 birds going for the same moth almost collided. I had never thought about a border patrol checkpoint as being a good place to look for nighthawks. Live and learn.

Week #21, which began on May 21, is off to a good start with a total of 71 birds. 4 new year birds were found bringing the YTD number up to 588. The virginia warbler will be listed as heard only, but I expect to be able to see one over the next 2 months. I am back to Florida canyon early tomorrow to look once again for the rufous-capped warbler. Stay tuned!

1 comment:

  1. Unlike some other birds (like the green heron ~ which is not green!) the magnificent is quite appropriately named. It is magnificent! Nice photo! I thought border patrol check points were on the actual border . . . but I guess you are in Arizona. Definitely a more desirable birding spot over wastewater ponds! Glad to see those miles walked (slowly) increasing. See you Monday.