Tubac Hawk Watch and more . . .

March 14 & 15, 2015
This past weekend I joined a small group of Sonoran Audubon birders to visit the Hawk Watch at Ron Morriss Park in Tubac as well as to do other birding in that general area south of Phoenix.  Although I had walked past and even birded this park last year, I didn't realize it was located directly behind the biggest draw to Tubac -- the Artist's Colony.

We arrived at the Hawk Watch on Saturday morning at 7:45 with a fair number of people already in chairs lined up facing south since most birds were flying south to north.  Having never participated in a Hawk Watch before, I was excited and wanting to learn about the process.  Despite windy weather, the hawks traveled overhead, sometimes low enough for some practice at aerial photography. At other times we would call a sighting "about 50 feet below the crescent moon" so that everyone could locate it in the sky.

Black Hawk

Among the many hawk watchers (45 estimate) was one birder, a licensed bird bander, who brought an American Kestrel over to to our area so we could see its beautiful markings. With its striped rufous back and tail, blue wings, and two vertical face stripes, our smallest falcon is fairly easy to spot. But to enjoy its colorful patterns up close and personal was a special treat.  The bird was calm during its "showing off".  It was later released away from the park.

Later in the morning, another Kestrel flew overhead and perched where it could watch us.

American Kestrel

Peter Collins
Peter Collins records the Hawk Count on an hourly basis.  The fact that the previous day, he had logged 15 species of raptors was an excellent count.  They had also enjoyed a visit from a Short-tailed Hawk.  
That was one bird I wanted to see and, on Saturday, I happened to be right next to the birder who called it but when I asked its location he shrugged his shoulders:  "It came in right over there and went down out of sight."  A reliable and known birder, his sighting was added to the day's list of hawks observed.  For me, it went on my TSID list:  "They Saw It; I Didn't".

Our group (Claudia, Barb, Susie, Kathe, Sue and I) participated in the Hawk Watch for about four hours.  Pete was very good about calling out loudly the hawk sightings by others that he confirmed.  When no hawks were in the sky, I struck up a conversation with some birders standing next to me.  They were from Dallas and were temporarily staying a bit northeast of Tucson. When I wasn't checking with other birders who had called out a sighting that I wanted to see, I kept returning to talk birds with this couple, Bob and Beth. By the end of the morning, we realized that both Bob and I will be on Melody Kehl's trip to Big Bend NP next month.  Beth isn't a birder but accompanies Bob from time to time and I was glad she had chosen to join him on the Hawk Watch. 

From Tubac, we drove farther south to Pena Blanca Lake, arriving there shortly after noontime and staying for about two hours. With many different approaches to the Lake, we explored several of them. Ruddy Ducks and a Belted Kingfisher were the best sightings at the Lake, but the trails offered up some spring blossoms as well as a Wilson's Warbler and four Mexican Jays, one of which was a sub-adult, having not yet lost all the pale color on its beak. It wasn't black like the adult Mexican Jay's bill.

Blossoms along Pena Blanca Lake Trail

We made several stops along Ruby Road as we drove back toward I-19. The Pena Blanca Spring area was rich with birds. After parking beneath a tall spreading live oak tree, we followed the birds from that area to the nearby hillside. What a treat!  More Vermilion Flycatchers, a Hutton's Vireo, Mexican Jays, Bridled Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch, Rock and Bewick's Wrens, Black-tailed Gnatcatchers and, best of all, a male Painted Redstart. What a grand way to end a long day of birding!

Dinner at Wisdom's that evening was an excellent choice for some good Mexican food to fill us up.  Having left the Phoenix area at Zero Dark Thirty, we were all eager to reach the motel in Green Valley for some Zzzzzz.

The next morning, we set out on Tubac's section of the deAnza Trail to try our luck at finding the rare Sinaloa Wren from Mexico. The Juan Bautista deAnza National Historic Trail runs from Nogales, AZ to the San Francisco Bay Area.  The Tubac section has been "touched" by the artists of the area with whimsical and clear designs.  The spider and cobweb captured the morning light and this unique sculpture struck my fancy. A sign, also below, explains.

When we reached the stakeout for the Sinaloa Wren, the three people intensely watching a brush pile told me they had just seen the bird.  Before they left, I heard the bird's ratchet call but had to wait 45 minutes longer before it came into view.  I was now in the primo spot for observing it and, as it emerged from beneath the sticks, I was able to see its light eyebrow and dark facial markings.  As it scratched around in the leaf litter, I also caught sight of its rusty tail. WOW!  It was not a Life Bird for me; I had seen it in Huachuca Canyon last year. But this one had a way of skulking out of sight for very long periods of time.  I felt very lucky.

As we returned on the de Anza Trail, lighting was good for a photo of this Broad-billed Hummingbird that perched in front of me.

Broad-billed Hummingbird
On our return, we diverted from the trail to visit the Hawk Watch again, but the winds were so strong, we stayed less than an hour.

Driving out of Tubac on Bridge Road, we stopped to enjoy a large flock of Cedar Waxwings in two trees, one on each side of the road.  We counted 50 altogether.

Close-up of one of the Cedar Waxwings
Next stop was Amado Water Treatment Plant pond to see if the Pacific Loon was still present.  It was!  It was swimming and preening along the western edge of the pond.

Pacific Loon

With wind gusts coming more frequently, we decided to check out Florida Canyon where we might be more protected.  The fact that another rarity has been sighted here recently was a bit of a magnet for us, too.  That I had just seen the Black-capped Gnatcatcher a week ago here was no deterrent; a rare bird is always on my radar.  Today, it was not seen as quickly or as easily as last Sunday.  It was not at the corral; it was not at the parking lot, but a person leaving the area told us it had been spotted twenty minutes previously up the trail to the water tank.  I had no idea where that was but our avid planner for the trip knew, so we followed her.  
Trail to Water Tank, Florida Canyon

Previous attempts have kept me from this trail due to high water in the stream crossing close to the parking lot. Today, a mother and her two small children were playing in it. We were able to cross easily on rocks without a drop of water touching our shoes. We saw good birds as we hiked upward: Red-naped Sapsucker, Broad-tailed Hummingbird, Red-tailed Hawk and, rather surprisingly, a female Northern Harrier riding the updrafts in and around the mountains.  We didn't see the target bird on our way to the water tank, but we paused on our way down, not far from the tank where we heard several species.  Eventually, the Black-capped Gnatcatcher came into view!  Both a male and a female were present so I soaked up everything I could see about them.  It had taken me five or more attempts at finding them last year and now, in one full week's time, I was seeing a pair of them for the second time this year!  

Back at the parking lot, we spotted a Green-tailed and Canyon Towhee as well as a Pyrrhuloxia.  A good way to end our visit to the I-19 Corridor south of Tucson.

During a brief rest stop at Sweetwater Wetlands, we decided to tally our list out at the ramada.  A Snowy Egret flew in to the same mesquite tree where a Great Egret was already perched, ruffling the Great One's feathers.  

Left: Snowy Egret and Great Egret, on the right

It was an awesome trip with keen birders and fun companions despite the high winds on Sunday.  Of all the birds spotted, I managed to tally 83 species during the two days.

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