SEAZ Birding Adventure with my Canadian "Pointers"

March 8 & 9, 2015

Day #1

With reports of Black-capped Gnatcatcher sightings in the corral area of Lower Florida Canyon arriving regularly, I was itching to try my luck.  Last year I had dipped three times before finally finding it in the parking lot area of Florida Canyon on November 2nd. 

Since I'm enjoying house guests, I asked them and two other mutual friends, to join me for a two-day Birding Adventure to Southeastern Arizona to see if I could locate that elusive gnatcatcher.   Luckily for me, they were up for it, so on Sunday morning we departed Apache Junction early enough for the five of us to arrive at Florida Canyon at 9:00 a.m., after a 3-hour drive, including a quick breakfast stop.

Detailed directions from birder friends helped us find the spot immediately.  We birded our way into the corral area and I found myself at the far end of it peering out toward a forest of leafless gray trees.  THUNK!  I turned to see two cows entering my side of the corral for a drink.  When I quickly slipped over into another section with Chris, we both heard the mewing call of the Black-capped Gnatcatcher.  My other friends had already returned to the van to bird that area. 

Tank in the Florida Canyon corral

Staying quiet at the rear corral fence, we were soon treated to multiple sightings of three (not one, but THREE) Black-capped Gnatcatchers.  It appeared to be one male and two females. The lighting of the morning sky was not conducive to long-distance photos, but we did our best.  Note the whiteness of the under tail on the male in the photo below; it is one of its diagnostic markers.  It is different than the under-tail of both the Black-tailed and Blue-gray Gnatcatcher.

Black-capped Gnatcatcher - male
I was thrilled to get such a good view of the birds flitting from tree to tree.  
Black-capped Gnatcatcher - male (photo: Chris)

In the photo below, Chris was able to get both the male and female Black-capped Gnatcatcher in one frame.  Birding can be like finding a needle in a haystack: can you find the female?  
Black-capped Gnatcatcher [female at bottom below male]

After about fifteen minutes with this treasured target bird, both Chris and I wondered if we would have any good photos to share our "find".  Above are the best we managed to get.

Turning to leave, I immediately noticed a flycatcher in a large tree behind us. This "empid" (Empidomax), the Gray Flycatcher, is one that frequents the riparian and mesquite habitat in the Phoenix area, so its familiar downward tail-wagging confirmed its identity.  It stands apart from other empids by its lack of distinctive eye-ring; the others are much more difficult to ID.  Knowing songs and chips are the keys to knowing one empid from another, but I'm not there - yet.

Gray Flycatcher

I planned several stops in Madera Canyon, the first one being at Whitehouse Picnic Area to try to locate the Red-breasted Sapsucker that's been in the area for several months.  Again, my birder friends had given me good advice as to where to look for it so, after parking, we scanned across the road toward a particular multi-trunked tree with a small white stone in front of it.  There was a bird there, but not the one I was seeking.  
Female Red-naped Sapsucker
We hung out for about half an hour before moving up canyon to Santa Rita Lodge where we could find no parking.  Higher up, we stopped at Kubo B&B where we birded the stream with feeders attracting a variety of birds.

Kubo B&B

 My best sighting there was a Painted Redstart, with a Magnificent Hummingbird, a close second.

Painted Redstart

After 15 minutes there, Chris, Sharon, Kathie, Lynne and I decided to head to the top of the road for a picnic lunch.  Construction work posed no waiting problems for us where it was one lane, but picnic tables and parking spaces up there were scarce.  We finally found one and enjoyed the coolness of the higher elevation of 3500 feet.  Located in the Santa Rita Mountains, Madera Canyon offers many hiking and birding trails as well as picnic areas that were being used to the max on this Sunday.  

Sharon, Chris, Kathie, Lynne

Returning to Santa Rita Lodge, my friends got excited about the variety of hummingbirds, the Acorn Woodpecker, Bridled Titmouse, the Mexican Jay and the Wild Turkeys.  Best sightings for me were the Magnificent Hummingbird and the Black-chinned, that I had not yet seen this season and which I understand was its first appearance for the year at the Santa Rita feeders.

Broad-billed Hummingbird;  Photo: Chris
Anna's Hummingbird;  Photo: Chris

MAGNIFICENT Hummingbird;  Photo - Chris

Wild Turkey

From Madera Canyon, we headed south on Highway 19 toward Patagonia, with a brief stop at the Amado Water Treatment Plant, a small pond on the east side of a frontage road.  My target bird was the Bronzed Cowbird reported there several days ago, but two of the birders in the car keep a life list and the Pacific Loon, a continuing rarity, would be a first sighting for them.   It was mid-afternoon when we arrived, but we spotted the Pacific Loon immediately in our northwest corner of the pond.  It did one dive, came up, then curled up into siesta mode and stayed that way for the remainder of our brief stop.

While our friends checked into the Stage Stop Inn at Patagonia, Kathie joined me in searching the City Park for the Yellow-throated Warbler, another rarity that has continued there.  I had tried for that rare bird with other birding friends in early February and dipped twice.  Dang!  We saw 10 Cedar Waxwings in a tree across the street but no YTWA in this wide median strip across from our hotel.  We were ready for pizza at Velvet Elvis with the others, so gave up our search.

E-bird references for Day #1:

DAY #2 :  March 9th
After breakfast at 7 a.m. in the Wild Horse Saloon restaurant attached to the Stage Stop Inn, I birded the City Park again while the others packed and loaded the car.  It was a fortunate thirty minutes of time spent.  While bah-humbugging the numerous Yellow-rumped Warblers in several pine trees, a Gray Hawk flew through my binocular view.  Quickly, I followed it over the park and to the east.  The Gray Hawk is a beauty and one that really touches me deeply.  So, I was thinking that all was not lost on this morning after all.  Just then, a striking gray and white bird flew into the high part of a pine.  Could it be my bird?  I was looking for the ID marks on a moving bird:  white eyebrow; white patch on sides of neck; triangular black mask; long dark bill; and, of course, its boldly bright yellow throat that extends down onto the chest.  After several quick looks, I knew I was looking at the rarity.  It was high and moving; no photo.  I've seen some awesome photos of this bird taken by friends but, on this occasion anyway, I'm not among them. 

A visit to Patagonia is not complete without a visit to Tucson Audubon's Paton Center for Hummingbirds.

While the bird on the flag above, the Violet-crowned Hummingbird, was my target bird, my friends (my Canadian "pointers") were thrilled with a Bridled Titmouse, Lesser Goldfinch and Pine Siskin.  Upon arrival at the Paton House, Larry Morgan met us and told us he needed to leave on an appointment, so we made ourselves comfortable with the many chairs and just strolled the yard.  The Violet-crowned Hummingbird is a regular there each year and did not disappoint.  

At a tree right over the Paton House, a Common Raven was persistent in nest building.  It flew in, broke off a branch with its bill, looked it over, broke another piece off, then flew off to wherever its nest was being constructed.  Then, it returned and went through the same process again but after breaking off several pieces of his chosen nesting stick, decided it wasn't going to work after all and tossed it aside.  He started the process all over….several times, sometimes taking one for nest building; other times, tossing it aside.

Violet-crowned Hummingbird
Photo:  Chris
Larry gave me the directions I needed to find the Curly Horse Road that he had guided a few of us on in February.  Today, I was looking for Chestnut-collared Longspurs.  The grasslands provide awesome wide-open space for all sorts of birds, including the many Eastern and Western Meadowlarks that we heard and saw.  Chris was able to photograph a Grasshopper Sparrow in some thick brush that had flown toward us from a small flock far out in the field.  Barely visible in the photo but enough for ID.  [Not posted here]

Grasslands; Sonoita area
Babs, birding the grasslands
After an hour of stopping and looking at many birds in the grasslands but seeing no flocks of longspurs, we headed for our next stop, Mary Jo Ballator's Ash Canyon B&B in Sierra Vista.
Sculpture at entrance/exit to grasslands

High Noon is not the best birding time of day, but that is when we arrived at Ash Canyon B&B.  Mary Jo was sitting out and greeted us warmly as we joined her in the chairs to watch the numerous feeders that she fills daily.  She has created a bird-friendly habitat that was jumping with activity.  She initiated my friends in her systematic way of locating the position of birds in the yard and she identified birds for them.  

Mexican Jay  Chris: photo

When an unknown hawk made its presence known to the birds at the feeders, they immediately FROZE. . . . not just for a few seconds.  This White-breasted Nuthatch stayed, unmoving, in this posture for eight (8) minutes.  With the black of its back and head visible from above, it was well camouflaged.

White-breasted Nuthatch, Ash Canyon B & B; held this posture for 8 minutes in response to hawk presence

Just as suddenly as each bird had simultaneously locked into position for the duration, they relaxed again and went about feeding.  I had never been present for such a long "freeze" of so many birds.
Ladder-backed Woodpecker
Our next stop, the San Pedro House is always inviting to birds and birders.  What better place to look for the rather hard-to-find Pyrrhuloxia that resembles the Northern Cardinal.

When I had checked the Arizona listserv last evening, I had seen a report of two Least Grebes at  Kingfisher Pond along the San Pedro Riparian area below the house.  Kathie and Lynne joined me for the one-mile walk to the pond; Chris and Sharon strolled down the main path to the river.

Spring Cottonwoods leafing out along the San Pedro R.

Two Pied-billed Grebes  [Saw no Least Grebe(s)]
Yellow Warbler seen by Sharon & Chris
Wrapping up our visit there, we departed for home at 3:30 p.m., returning the "back way" to avoid heavy commuter traffic north of Tucson.  We traveled a total of 845 km, saw 70 species of birds, enjoyed near-perfect birding weather and enjoyed meeting and talking with other birders wherever we went.  Chris saw 23 Life Birds on the trip and we all considered it a rather fantastic birding adventure.

E-bird references for Day #2:

* * *

1 comment:

  1. That looks like one awesome trip!!! Watch out Ms. Susan and Mr. Darrel! You might end up in 1st place for the year. Did you do much hiking to see the gnatcatchers? I might get down there with a friend who can't hike much more than three miles at a time and I didn't know how far the BCGNs were from the road.