Madera Canyon, Green Valley (Pima & Santa Cruz Counties) and Sweetwater Wetlands, Tucson (Pima County)

Saturday, February 20, 2016
Having never birded Madera Canyon in February, I was getting the itch to head south.
So, I invited Glenda Jones to join me (on her "wish list" while she's in Arizona over the winter months) and picked her up at 5:30 a.m

Somewhere between Avra Valley Road and the Marana area, darkness was fading and a great MURMURATION of blackbirds swooshing this way and that in syncopated flight contrasted beautifully with the first light of day. Far beyond the thick wide MURMURATION, a long sinuous flock of thousands more blackbirds flew from east to west. I wondered aloud if these were the flocks of 25,000 plus that Jody Williams reported earlier in January. Amazing sight to start our birding day.

Later, at about 8 a.m., we began birding along Whitehouse Canyon Road as we drove in toward Madera Canyon. Attracting desert birds was the scrub on each side of the road that produced many Phainopepla, often in pairs, with the male perching high giving its low pe-uup call in an apparent courtship display, waiting for a (the) female to appear.

Birding the Proctor Road trail for two hours proved delightful; temps in the 70s, clear sky, water running in Madera Creek, friendly birders and some really good birds. As usual, we took all the spur trails to see what might lie in those directions, too.

Among a flock of Dark-eyed Juncos along the trail, this one reminded me of an old  childhood expression:  "Step on a crack, break your mother's back."

Dark-eyed Junco looking fearful about walking across the crack in the sidewalk

Madera Creek

On the bird above, note its totally brown back, large white neck patch, dark cap, nape and ear patch plus the red cap indicating it's a male.
On the same Arizona Woodpecker, pic below, you see the white throat, dark chest spots and barred belly.

Arizona Woodpecker
For Glenda, happiness is getting another Life Bird!  Me?  I was just stoked at finding such a good bird so early in the day.

Two birders from Boston were focused on a tree beside the trail. We joined them, asking what bird they were on. They hadn't yet determined if there was one or maybe two TOWNSEND'S WARBLER in the tree. Ah, we located both the male and the female, thanks to them. These were FOY birds for me (first of this year). Seemed early for warblers, but it sure is warm enough.

Driving farther up the hill, then, we spent 45 minutes at Santa Rita Lodge watching the feeders and trees. Rewards included a BROAD-BILLED HUMMINGBIRD stopping, in direct sunlight, at a feeder in front of us. Its blue-feathered neck was catching the sun just right to blast us with its beauty - too close for photos!

Broad-billed Hummingbird photographed at BTA 3/13.
To have a MAGNIFICENT HUMMINGBIRD show up, too, was a thrill. The male appears blackish overall but it's a big hummer, over 1" bigger than our familiar Anna's Hummingbird. Sitting at a feeder, its body is way longer than any other hummer present.
It's colors are actually green and black with just a speck of white showing behind its eye; the female has a greenish/gray front and green back. She showed up, too. They favored the feeders I hadn't seen prior to my neighbors installing them -- test-tube style feeders with a tiny hole in the rubber stopper so the hummers can hover freely as they sip. They were fastened to the gift shop window with small suction cups.

With no leaves on this deciduous tree, the Pine Siskin were very visible when they flocked here between forays elsewhere.
Pine Siskin (top and bottom photo)

Generally, we can count on seeing Mexican Jays at these feeding stations frequented by many species.
Mexican Jay
Lesser Goldfinch (male) 
Lesser Goldfinch Male-top left; Female-bottom right
From Santa Rita Lodge, we drove on up to Kubo Cabins B&B where Cora sets out many feeders in the canyon, with Madera Creek running through the property.

Chalet "cabin" at Kubo B&B
There, we added to our pleasure seeing Bridled Titmouse and White-breasted Nuthatch again plus ACORN WOODPECKER and YELLOW-EYED JUNCO.

Bridled Titmice never sit still; this one is flying directly toward me
Acorn Woodpecker
Woodpeckers don't always select big fat tree limbs; look at these "twigs" the Acorn is feeding upon. 

This small Yellow-eyed Junco, below, is not yet fully developed; t's tail feathers are still growing.

Yellow-eyed Junco

Having talked about the possibility of birding Sweetwater Wetlands in Tucson on the way home, we decided that Glenda had enjoyed a fine introduction to birding Madera Canyon and that we'd head that direction.

So off we went.  Began birding at Sweetwater Wetlands in Tucson at 4:30 p.m. and feeling hot compared to earlier in the day.  Among the waterfowl here, we saw:

Pied-billed Grebe grabbing an "early-bird special"
Ruddy Duck whose bill turns blue during mating season
Named "Green-winged Teal", I always look for the male's green ear patch
Common Gallinule
What I didn't see and hoped to find were the ever-missing-in-action Baltimore Oriole frequently reported at Sweetwater -- and seen that morning by Chris Rohrer! -- as well as the reported Brown Thrasher. Looking into afternoon sunlight, I thought for a moment we had flushed it up to a tree but it turned out to be a Northern Mockingbird. Couldn't let that bird get in the last word of the day.

Whenever I see this Green Heron, I'm a happy birder! (got me started birding)

Wrapped up the afternoon with this Greater Roadrunner

Arrived home at 6:30 p.m.-- 340 miles round trip -- seeing 57 species of birds many of which just aren't seen in the Phoenix area.  What a great February birding day!

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