More Birding in Sierra Vista, Cochise County, AZ

April 2 & 3
The day after returning from last week's birding trip to Sierra Vista with Glenda Jones, our listserv (rare bird alert) reported a Tufted Flycatcher had been seen in Ramsey Canyon associating with that rare Flame-colored Tanager. Dang!!  When that Flycatcher showed up last year, it was very high in the Canyon and most reports that reached my ears were about the toughness of reaching the spot more than about the bird!  I didn’t go. So, if it showed up on this second-weekend-in-a-row trip, it would be a LIFE BIRD for me.

Hoping to get an “easier” look at this rare and distinctive bird from Mexico, I joined Susan Fishburn and Laura Ellis for a full Saturday-Sunday exploration of several canyons to find specific birds including the very small, cinnamon-buff colored Tufted Flycatcher at the lower elevation in Ramsey Canyon where it had been reported. Laura, a good birder who hadn’t yet done extensive birding in Arizona, was looking forward to seeing lots of new birds.  

With Ramsey Canyon opening at 8:00 a.m., we planned our arrival for that hour only to find that the parking lot had opened earlier. The limited lot fills quickly with birders and we were glad to find a spot; the car behind us took the last slot available. [Cars that parked along the street were contacted later by a volunteer who hiked up the trail to tell them they had one hour to move their cars or the Sheriff (at residents’ requests) would be giving them a ticket and/or towing violating vehicles.]

It was our intent to go directly to the top of Bledsoe Loop to find the Flame-colored Tanager I had seen last week plus that Tufted Flycatcher. It took an ELEGANT TROGON to stop us along the way! Searching for them often proves elusive, but here it was bopping along in some trees across Ramsey Creek from our well-maintained upward trail. It would perch and fly and/or turn its back to us and even look back at us. In addition to cottonwoods, many old, spreading white-barked Arizona Sycamore trees provide cavities (from woodpeckers) for several bird species, including the Elegant Trogon.

Elegant Trogon [photo by Laura Ellis]

We came upon several other Phoenix-area birders also there for the two rarities, including Chris Rohrer, an excellent birder. It’s amazing how much I’ve picked up about birding just by being in such company.  Already, he had seen the Flame-colored Tanager and was intent on finding the Tufted Flycatcher.  

Word was reaching us that the female Flame-colored had arrived so I went on up to the top of Bledsoe Loop hoping to see it. After spending an hour or so in that area without it showing up, I ventured back down the trail to join the “flock” of birders listening and searching for the Tufted Flycatcher in the area it had been most recently reported. (Susan and Laura held fast up there.)

Many birds were heard in the woods including the plaintive voice of the Dusky-capped Flycatcher; the pee-eurr call of the Western Wood-pewee; the delightful cheery cheery cheery chew of the Painted Redstarts and, thanks to Steve Hosmer’s familiarity with the voice of Swanson’s Thrush, several of us learned its melodic song on the spot: wh-wheedl-oo wheedl-oo wheedl-oo.  

There was a Scott’s Oriole, several White-breasted Nuthatches busily running up and down the trunks of oaks, maples and cottonwoods, and a pair of Hepatic Tanagers bringing a dash of red and yellow color to the forest as they flew from tree to creek .

Eventually, several of us heard the Tufted Flycatcher but I don’t “take” Life Birds without getting to see them. Chris, however, was among the ones who had seen it previously — not only in Arizona but in Mexico so it wasn’t a new bird for him.

Over three hours had elapsed since we started birding in Ramsey, so we drove farther along SR 92 to Ash Canyon B&B to see if the Lucifer Hummingbird might come into view, especially for Laura’s sake. Not only does she enjoy the birds, she takes excellent photos!

Eating our lunch while watching at the upper and lower areas at Mary Jo’s Ash Canyon B&B, we managed to see many hungry birds devouring seed, peanuts, jam, peanut butter, oranges, normal stuff on the ground and, of course, at the hummingbird feeders. 

Spotted Towhee
Mexican Jay
Acorn Woodpecker
Mexican Jay
Bridled Titmouse
Scott's Oriole [photo by Laura Ellis]
While I was taking photos in the lower area, Laura and Susan were enjoying the hummingbirds in the upper area including the rare Lucifer Hummingbird I had seen last week.

Lucifer Hummingbird  [photo by Laura Ellis]
Next stop was Huachuca Canyon located within Fort Huachuca. It definitely helps to enter the base when the driver, Susan, has a military ID card!  We were saluted forward at the East Gate. 

The three of us were searching for the Sinaloa Wren - yes, another bird from Mexico, specifically, Sinaloa. One has been coming north for the past two years but although Susan knew its territory well, it didn't reveal itself.  Other birds kept us on the move: a Townsend's Warbler, Bridled Titmouse, Dusky Flycatcher; and a Black-throated Gray Warbler that gave slow enough looks for a photo.

Black-throated Gray Warbler
After checking into our hotel, we had little time left for dinner, so we headed for Battiste B&B. When I checked in with him by phone to see if it would be okay if we stopped by to see the Elf Owl in the evening (since we weren't staying there), he said he was in Roswell, NM, to see the Prairie Chickens! But, he was glad to give us the opportunity. 

We arrived early enough to photograph some of our regular desert birds in the waning light.

And, as happened last week, the ELF OWL emerged from its hole in the post when daylight was gone.

After a late dinner and a good night's sleep, we awoke with a plan to return to Ramsey Canyon for the rarities we had failed to find.  Arriving earlier this time, we expected a line to be waiting outside the parking lot, but a volunteer was just opening the gate as we arrived about 7:30 a.m.  Since the Flame-colored Tanagers had been seen early yesterday, we hoped this would make the difference for us today.

We knew Steve and Joan Hosmer were returning there, too, so we started out walking together, but I moved out ahead of them. When I reached Bledsoe Loop, instead of going directly up where the tanager had been when I saw it last week, I took the outside Loop and stopped for photos of deer.

Also walking this side of the loop trail were Sierra Vista birders, Joe Woodley and Joann Loza whom I had met through Susan in previous years' visits to this area. It was nice to chat with them a bit.

Well, by the time I reached the Flame-colored spot, the tanager had flown in and was gone!  Having seen it last week, I was disappointed but not distressed. 

But as Susan, Laura, Steve and Joan reached the spot, we heard something that we ended up calling a consolation bird. We all heard a Northern Pygmy Owl calling. Astute Steve walked around asking other birders if they were using play-back (not allowed there) or making that sound -- often used to bring birds out to see what's going on. No one was doing so, which made the Northern Pygmy Owl a countable bird for us! 

While they stayed on at the tanager location, I walked down with the hope of locating the Tufted Flycatcher even though Joe and Joann told me one was already up at the high location. They thought, perhaps, the one being seen so low, was a new one. 

Hope did not deliver; the TUFC was a no-show. However, I had two consolation events. A coati (White-nosed Coatimundi) was in a tree along the trail. Note the long tail.  White nose mostly blocked by tree limb.

When Susan and Laura returned without having seen the Flame-colored Tanager, I showed them a nest that a Nature Conservancy volunteer had shown many of us birders. (Second consolation event.) Magnificent Hummingbirds had a nest, fairly well concealed from onlookers, where I believe from my photos there were two young. A female was seen bringing food to them and I had seen a male Magnificent coming to some feeders above that area.

This sighting brought to an end - almost - our trip to Sierra Vista.

L-R:  Laura, Babs, Susan in Ramsey Canyon  [photo by Steve Hosmer]

On our way out of town I spotted a very white-looking hawk overhead. Susan immediately  pulled off the highway so we could get a better view of it. In the mid-day sunlight its tail looked translucent, the entire under part of the hawk was white and Susan and I both thought we detected a dark "helmet".  There was no front patagial line on the underwing like that of a RTHA, nor did it fit the bill for Broad-winged which I had come to know during fall migration up in Ontario.  After doing research in Hawks in Flight, I entered it into eBird as SHORT-TAILED HAWK.  Yay!

Since I intended to bird closer to home on Monday, at Tempe Town Lake to see if I could find the continuing Northern Parula and the Wilson's Phalarope that Magill Weber had reported today, Susan asked if we wanted to stop by there on our way back to her place to pick up our cars.  YES!

No sooner had we gotten out of the car than Laura said, "Here it is!"  I got no photos while it was in that olive (?) tree at the parking lot, but it later flew into a cottonwood where I got an "iffy" photo of what is really a gorgeous blue, yellow, gray and white bird. 

And, so there went another weekend of birding in the company of good friends, great habitat, good birds and cool weather.  Total of 81 excellent species.

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  1. You win some....blah blah. You saw ALOT of great birds. Still hoping to see a Short-tailed Hawk. I always love seeing you on the trails. As the year goes on, we must do some birding again:) hugs me

  2. Maybe next month I'll get around to Mt. Lemmon. Would love to do that with you if we can work out a good day/time.