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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