Sierra Vista, Cochise County and Cluff Ranch WA, Graham County, AZ

March 24-27
Birders from around the world know that Sierra Vista in the southeastern part of Arizona is a bird magnet, especially for Mexican species. So when Glenda Jones asked me in December (upon her arrival from Ontario) if I would be able to show her around that area, I quickly agreed but suggested Springtime would be best. Having never birded that area as early as March, I had no idea what we might find. 

What a bonanza awaited us!!

The rarity we found in internationally-known Ramsey Canyon on Friday morning (3/25/16) would be, I thought, the highlight of our trip.  When we arrived there and checked the white-board where birders list their recent highlights, I was shocked and excited to see that a FLAME-COLORED TANAGER had been reported seen yesterday on Bledsoe Loop Trail. Having seen the rare pair of such tanagers in that location last year gave me a good idea of where we might find this early male….near the top of the loop. 

Doing the loop counter-clockwise, I stopped to scan the trees near the bench just before the trail began to descend. BINGO! Brilliant red-orange-yellow feathers filled my binocular vision. 

Flame-colored Tanager when I spotted it
Flame-colored Tanager [photo by Glenda Jones]

Quickly, I got Glenda on the bird who then followed its every movement from limb to limb with her camera. Other birders arrived. Two women speaking a foreign language intrigued me as one tried to help the other locate the rare and colorful tanager. Having heard my friends Hanny and Jannie communicate in Dutch, I inquired if that was their home country. They smiled but said, “No, we’re Swiss, but it has some similar guttural sounds of Dutch.” They were thrilled to get unexpected views of such a wildly handsome bird.

Flame-colored Tanager  [photo by Glenda Jones]

Feeling very “high” with such a sighting, we grounded ourselves with our next stop at Brown Canyon Ranch where we located more typical high-desert species,  including a Cassin’s Kingbird.

Cassin's Kingbird showing its white throat; yellow underbelly and gray/brown back and tail

Loggerhead Shrike at a distance from the walking trail

Lincoln's Sparrow at the pond
While walking several trails in the grasslands, the breeze grew stronger keeping the birds down. So we looked up! In addition to a distant but definite flat-winged soaring Golden Eagle, we saw this Red-tailed Hawk closer to us. When it flew off, though, it headed in the direction where we had seen the eagle. The Red-tailed Hawk disappeared to a mere spot before even reaching the point where we had observed the Golden Eagle.

Red-tailed Hawk [photo by Glenda Jones

As we drove toward Ash Canyon B&B, I asked Glenda to make a U-turn for this young Red-tailed Hawk perched on a utility wire beside the road (Route 92).

Young Red-tailed Hawk

We had spent a short time at Ash Canyon B&B the previous afternoon but a hawk-flyover quieted all the birds for a long stretch. Mary Jo has arranged her yard into a bird paradise full of all kinds of feeders plus peanut butter spread on limbs and into tiny holes in the trees. Mostly, though, her yard is full of hummingbird feeders and in recent years, she’s hosted a rare, LUCIFER HUMMINGBIRD that usually makes Mexico its summer breeding ground. It's a really small hummer.

I caught a glimpse of it here last year, but this time, what a show! The male flew in, posed in a nearby tree facing us with its throat feathers glowing purple/magenta. Birder Pat, from North Dakota, saw it fly into the tree so another shout out to her in gratitude. Catching the hummers away from the feeder is, for me, the best possible sighting.

Lucifer Hummingbird

Lucifer Hummingbird showing decurved bill and colorful gorget  [Photo by Glenda Jones]

Rufous Hummingbirds, more rare where I live, were also plentiful.

Rufous Hummingbird at the feeder
Rufous Hummingbird on nearby tree
After dining with Birder Pat and her husband, Larry, at a nearby restaurant, we returned to Battiste B & B where we would do the same thing we had the previous night - sit out in their yard (Tony & Julie) to wait for the ELF OWL to peek out of its hole in a power pole. The power company has covered the pole in wire to prevent woodpeckers from making more holes, so the photos show that wire. The previous holes were not covered but the company was trying to protect the tree from getting weak from so many cavities.

Elf Owl coming out of its cavity nest  [photo by Glenda Jones]
After the Elf Owl stared at us, it decided to fly out into the trees where it began calling. A mate called back and according to Tony, they copulated out of sight, made more vocalizations together and flew off.

How the Elf Owl appeared to me from the distance, then above as I zoomed my lens
We awoke early to hike the steep and rocky Miller Canyon. Joining Tom Beatty, Jr. who was showing two guests where the MEXICAN SPOTTED OWL usually perches, accepted us into his walk. He warned that they couldn't be found the previous day.

But up we went - eventually at our own pace since Tom, Jr., dressed in a long brown coat (civil war vintage?) and an old gun slung over his shoulder, stepped out at quite a pace. Glenda, wearing a knee brace on each leg, was determined and continued also at her pace. My own comfort range for the upward hike, with two walking sticks in hand, was between the leading threesome and Glenda.

Tom, Jr., paused a few times for us to catch up but as soon as we arrived, he was off again!
It's not really a long hike, less than a mile probably, but footing can be treacherous so we were doing no birding along the way in this full forest. Was it worth it?  You betcha!

My perch for taking photos shown below  [this photo by Glenda]

Not one, but two Mexican Spotted Owls were enjoying their daytime rest. We reached them at 7:45 a.m. and stayed more than thirty minutes just enjoying their movements as they preened and sometimes faced one another.

MEXICAN SPOTTED OWLS - 3 above photos

Glad to be back in the car, we decided to drive up Carr Canyon also in the Coronado National Forest. Nine miles of mostly dirt road to our destination, the road has a two-mile section of single lane switch-backs shown below on Google map.

Taking a photo of switchbacks Glenda drove up successfully
Switchback road up Carr Canyon

Eventually, we reached our destination.

We drove up to see if we could find the BUFF-BREASTED FLYCATCHERS reported here by other birders. It's a very small empidomax with very short bill and tail. Its buffy underparts were so rich with color they turned out yellow in my sunlit photos. This is a Mexican species that finds its way into the lower reaches of SE Arizona and can now be found even on Mt. Lemmon in Tucson.
Buff-breasted Flycatcher  [Photo by Glenda Jones]

Here's looking' at ya!    Note buffy neck. -- Buff-breasted Flycatcher.
In other birding at Carr Canyon Townsite Campground, I heard and found this Arizona Woodpecker, a brown bird with white face.

Having already seen the unexpected FLAME-COLORED TANAGER as well as other rarities such as LUCIFER HUMMINGBIRD, MEXICAN SPOTTED OWLS and BUFF-BREASTED FLYCATCHER, we began to toy with the idea of checking out another very rare bird just reported a few days ago (3/24) in Graham County. That's over Safford way.  A look at the map, said, GO!

So, after breakfast on Easter Sunday morning, we drove to CLUFF RANCH WILDLIFE AREA a bit north of Safford on Route 70.  Would our good fortune hold???

We came upon a few other birders also looking for this very rare bird that used to come north and breed in a few select spots in SE Arizona but it's been absent for several years == or at least not spotted and reported.

I knew Brendan Grice and introduced myself to several others, including Cathy who had been waiting for a few hours already. We were not all in the same place at the same time but once I got to the spot described by other birders, I stayed.

Staying and scanning the trees paid off. I spotted the ROSE-THROATED BECARD on a bare branch!  I was so excited I called Cathy over. "What do you see?" I asked her.  "Thats IT!" she confirmed. A LIFE BIRD.

Quickly, I called to Glenda, farther away. A man called to his wife and to Brendan who showed up shortly while the bird flew from spot to spot. Picture-taking was difficult in the thick willows and tangles of branches. After about ten minutes, everyone except Brendan, Glenda and I left. Then, we began to hear the bird, too.

Even though its rosy-colored throat doesn't show in this photo, it surely did when I first spotted it.
This is what I saw originally...just perched on a branch! Mind-blowing view!   [photo by Glenda Jones]
Rose-throated Becard  [photo by Glenda Jones]

From there, with having seen 73 species in 3 1/2 days, of which six (6) were LIFERS for Glenda, we headed home "the back way" through Globe re-living our breath-taking birding experience in Southeastern Arizona.

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Hawk Watch at Ron Morriss Park, Santa Cruz County, Arizona

Monday, March 21st
The first time I witnessed a Hawk Watch was many years ago when I lived in Virginia and was helping with banding migrating song birds at Kiptopeke - the end point of the Delmarva Peninsula on the “Eastern Shore” (shared by Delaware-Maryland-Virginia). As with the song birds who came together there because of the wide water separating the tip of the peninsula from Norfolk/Virginia Beach, the hawks did likewise. With my three young sons along, I didn’t take time then to join the birders on the high hill and become a sky-watcher for the migrating hawks but marveled at their ability to see birds coming from a long distance away. They knew by the wing pattern and shape of the bird which hawk would be coming into full view.

For years, the birds had been following that route and ever since the 23-mile long Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel opened in 1964, more birds have made that crossing safely. With the metal structures and artificial islands, song birds can stop along the way especially on a windy day.

It wasn’t until I visited a Hawk Watch platform in Texas that I began to grasp the magnitude of the monitoring and counting of migrating raptors…when hundreds or thousands of a single species passed by in a single day.  

So, when Desert Rivers Audubon offered a trip to the Tubac Hawk Watch south of Tucson a couple years ago, I quickly signed up and finally “did a hawk watch.”
While it may not get high numbers of raptors, it’s important to tally those that come up the Santa Cruz River and fly over Ron Morriss Park where the watch takes place. The main attraction for regular birders, of course, is the rarity we always hope to see.

Neither Jeanne nor Glenda had yet visited that spot, so we agreed to head for Tubac on the first day of summer, today. Would we see a Short-tailed Hawk?? We can always hope! Would it be a slow day? We hoped not. 
Weather was perfect when we arrived at 8 a.m. but it would grow toasty before we departed around noontime.

Peter Collins was setting up and had already seen a Sharp-shinned Hawk fly over. We set up folding chairs so we could take time to sit down every now and again over the next several hours that we planned to participate.

With birds chirping all around us, we decided to walk around the dog run and ball field area closer to the Santa Cruz River. 

As birders began to arrive, we returned to our chairs and used our front-row position to look south and east and west for potential migrating raptors.

First to appear was a Black Hawk.

Common Black Hawk (8:50 a.m. fly-over)

After that effort to photograph a raptor in flight, I decided it was certainly easier to take pictures of nearby songbirds.

Female Vermilion Flycatcher
Male Vermilion Flycatcher

Black Vulture [photo by Glenda]

Chipping Sparrows were abundant in the fields around us; through Glenda's spotting scope I got a great view of a gorgeous Lark Sparrow; a Say's Phoebe worked all morning fly-catching; a couple Broad-billed Hummingbirds showed up as did two male Phainopepla that perched on top of distant trees. The only sparrow that got close enough for a picture was this Vesper Sparrow foraging in the stones and grass below the restroom.

Hawk Watchers at Tubac's County Park; Peter Collins at right rear carrying clipboard
Distant Zone-tailed Hawk
Zone-tailed Hawk overhead [photo by Glenda]

Very beautiful to watch were the local Gray Hawks that flew over but were not part of the migratory count.
Gray Hawk [photo by Glenda]

Another good sighting was this Swainson's Hawk that Glenda was able to photograph well.

The most unexpected bird that flew over was this Crested Caracara. With its white head, white tail and white wingtips, even I could find that one in the blue sky!

Widespread in Mexico, Central and South America, fairly common in Texas but uncommon in Florida and Arizona, I was thrilled to have this strange-looking falcon fly over. It's larger than a Red-tailed Hawk but smaller than Turkey and Black Vultures. The bird is an accomplished scavenger and hunter.

Crested Caracara
After 3 1/2 hours of Hawk Watching, we turned the car toward home with an hour's birding lay-over at Sweetwater Wetlands in Tucson with me looking, yet again, for the ever - and still - elusive Baltimore Oriole. Wrong time of day! 

Our 300-mile 5:00 to 5:00 birding adventure was exhilarating -- a good thing since the heat could have wiped us out.

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Exploring MT. ORD, Maricopa County, AZ

Friday, March 18th

Driving northeast on State Route 87 early on Friday morning, we watched the sun rise over Four Peaks and down through the windshield making us reach for sunglasses at an early hour.

We were driving up and away from residential areas bursting with the yellow blooms of palo verde trees, past desert meadows carpeted with yellow flowers of brittle bush and even up past the tall many-armed saguaro cactus with hints of white on top of its arms that will bear the state flower in another month or so. [Saguaros grow only on southern slopes above 4,000 feet.]

Glenda Jones, new to the area this winter, had the 4-wheel drive high-clearance vehicle for the drive, so Jeanne Burns and I were happy to show her the birds of MT. ORD. We knew more migrants would be coming through in April, but time would run out for Glenda so here we were climbing the immediate rise in the road after the turn-off onto FR636. With windows down, I could hear Black-chinned Sparrows but they weren’t perched up in view as we drove slowly upward. At the first level stretch of road, we parked near the corral and birded both sides of the road without hiking down through the chaparral and junipers.

At 7:20 a.m., one of the first birds that popped up was a JUNIPER TITMOUSE. It was not close, but I tried to get a decent photo.

Juniper Titmouse

So I walked closer. . .

And, closer.

Until the sun rose higher, the Black-chinned Sparrows stayed far down in a basin toward Highway 87 singing and sometimes perching briefly at great distances from us.  We continued birding the corral area, seeing WESTERN SCRUB JAY and some birds more familiar to us, a SAY’S PHOEBE and CHIPPING SPARROWS.

Say's Phoebe
Western Scrub Jay

Finally, a few Black-chinned Sparrows perched close enough for Glenda to get some good photos.

Black-chinned Sparrows; photo by Glenda

Ascending the narrow dirt road up to FR1688 brought little in the way of bird song, but I knew a walk into this area would put us in touch with some good ones.

With two vehicles already parked in my usual spot, we pulled up next to the "tank" where we immediately heard Spotted Towhees. Scratching on the ground, I managed to flush them unintentionally up into a tree where Glenda and Jeanne got good views, too.

Bridled Titmouse, more Acorn Woodpeckers chasing one another, a Northern Flicker calling; an Anna's Hummingbird taking off as soon as we laid eyes on it and a Painted Redstart that was just too nimble for photos. This male Western Bluebird was much more cooperative!

The switchback road beyond Rt. 1688 reaches out into Gila County which requires a separate entry into eBird so we drove directly up to the parking lot at the gate to the summit. We wanted to walk that road through ponderosa pine and oak forest to find some higher elevation birds.  

Acorn Woodpeckers were again very present; we spied a few Bushtits, Dark-eyed Juncos, and White-breasted Nuthatches.  My gait put me ahead of my birding buds so when I heard the deep “whoo …. whoo” of the BAND-TAILED PIGEON and turned to ask if they had also heard it, they didn’t even hear me!
I waited for them, but, no, they had been getting acquainted and didn’t hear the deep somewhat “owl-y” sound. 

But they were first to spot the Olive Warblers that we heard. Birds were moving quickly and while both Jeanne and Glenda got good looks, I caught only the flight movements. But I had heard its song well.

Disappointed at not getting a better look at that warbler, I turned and looked up into the sky for raptors — and found VIOLET-GREEN SWALLOWS! Glenda found one perched and preening; we both took photos.

The dirt road kept winding upward; at a fork closer to the summit, I took a photo of the signage.

I think we had already walked a half mile from the gate blocking vehicles so it's probably a mile walk to the Lookout Station for US Forest Service use.

Jeanne and Glenda ascending almost to the top of the mountain; hazy but wonderful views beyond us
Then, we were there! Summit of MT. ORD:  7,128 feet.

Roosevelt Lake from summit of Mt. Ord
Glenda Jones & Jeanne Burns at summit

Glenda & Babs at summit [Photo by Jeanne Burns]

Beside an Alligator Juniper (so-called for the bark that is still showing) [Photo by Jeanne Burns]
North Side of Four Peaks with snow remnants

Juniper Berries

Birds we found at the summit included Western Scrub Jay, Common Ravens and Spotted Towhee but no raptors!  

We also had maximum bars on our cell phones standing beneath a variety of communication towers.

On our return walk, we were thrilled to have another chance at a photo of a PAINTED REDSTART.  Such a beautiful bird. But, always, it seems, behind sticks!

This second photo (below) of a Painted Redstart was taken at Boyce Thompson Arboretum a few years ago.

After spending 5 1/2 hours on Mt. Ord, we left that area, crossed Highway 87 and took FR267 into an idyllic spot along Sycamore Creek, just north of the birding spot at Sunflower.

Glenda and Babs
Finding no Juniper Titmice that usually frequent the area, we were happy to find a Townsend's Solitaire and chalked that up to an additional species for the day, giving us a total of 27.

With moderate temperatures, slight breeze and a clear sunny day, we could not have chosen a better day to bird Mt. Ord, so close but yet so far in habitat from home. Simply awesome!

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