Chiricahua Mountains, Cochise County, Arizona

July 25, 26 & 27th

DAY #1 - MONDAY, July 25th:

To break up our 265-mile drive to Portal, we stopped first at Sweetwater Wetlands in north Tucson for some good birding. Kathe Anderson led this Desert Rivers Audubon field trip with seven birders (in two cars).  

Arriving at 8:40 a.m. (after spraying was completed), we immediately came upon a TROPICAL KINGBIRD harassing a COOPER’S HAWK in the first big Cottonwood tree by the entrance bridge. The kingbird was vocal and actively flying at the Cooper’s that ignored it. So the kingbird would go back to a perch in the same tree about five feet away to continue screaming at it. After many flight attacks, the Cooper’s Hawk flew off with the Tropical Kingbird in close pursuit . . . out of our line of sight. I've never heard a Tropical Kingbird so vocal, so that was a special treat. Two great birds to start our day! The Tropical Kingbird is less common in our area than the Western and its best ID marker (for me) is its brown notched tail. Its bill is bigger and belly more yellow than the Western.

Cooper's Hawk: adults show red-brown horizontal barred feathering on chest; juvie show same color vertical stripes;
I'm guess this juvie is growing into adult hood with such a crosshatch

Tropical Kingbird (notched brown tail and very yellow belly/chest)


An hour later, we were back in the cars heading to the town of St. David about 50 miles distant on I-10 and US80.  A big thanks to Marcee and Theona for their safe and extensive driving on this trip.

The Holy Trinity Monastery is bird friendly and full of birds.  In 75 minutes, we saw 25 species including the resident peafowl - 2 Peacocks greeted us in the parking lot.


Peacock

We saw good birds:  ASH-THROATED and BROWN-CRESTED FLYCATCHER; COMMON YELLOWTHROAT; BLACK-THROATED GRAY WARBLER; 10 LARK SPARROWS; SUMMER TANAGER; BLUE GROSBEAK and BULLOCK'S ORIOLE among our 25 species sighted.  

As the group turned back toward the parking lot, I had been lagging behind and took a different and fortuitous route back. I spotted the MISSISSIPPI KITE circling overhead - in the direction of Golden Bell Road. After taking some photos, I tried to call the group but had no signal.

Mississippi Kite

The next leg of our journey took us to Willcox (45 miles distant) where we all enjoyed lunch at The Dining Car (red caboose) Big Tex BarBQ. Food and service was top notch and servings huge.

Next up was Lake Cochise and Twin Lakes Golf Course to check out waterfowl. The birds weren’t close but what birds we saw!!

The best action there was when about 60 LONG-BILLED CURLEW and 70 WILSON’S PHALAROPE lifted and flew off. What a sight!  I was so transfixed by their easy synchronous colorul flight that I never raised my camera. We could find no reason for their departure (hawk) and after a short time, they returned to their same respective foraging spots far from us in the lake.

With Kathe’s help I managed to find the BAIRD’S SANDPIPER (Year Bird) in amongst some sticks and grasses along a thin rivulet of water closer to us but still too far for a photo. I dipped on locating some of the other shore birds that I had hoped to find there, but in forty minutes, we saw 14 species.

The last leg of our trip (90 miles) through Rodeo, NM, led to our destination in Portal in the Chiricahua Mountains.

Chiricahua hillside

Located in the southeast corner of Arizona, this large mountain range was the original land of the Chiricahua Apache who were relocated to land east of Phoenix, just 75 miles from my home (San Carlos). The two best-known Apache from this tribe were Geronomo and Cochise. The rugged and expansive mountains provided them a safe haven from soldiers for many years.

Arriving around 5-ish, we checked into Portal Peak Lodge followed by our communal dinner at a picnic table on the deck while we watched hummingbirds zipping from feeder to feeder.

Calliope Hummingbird (male)

It didn’t take long to become more focused on the delicious offerings of some very good food choices. Big Yum!  Theona scored with her dessert — Sea Salt Caramel Ganache served in glass containers.  

From left: Shelley, Sue, Kathe, Jane, Diane, Theona and Marcee
After our feast, we took a brief walk into town to stretch our legs where we met more birds.


Acorn Woodpecker (male)  
Yet another "stick" bird: Northern Cardinal

DAY #2 TUESDAY, July 26th:
Birding began in Portal at 6 a.m., before breakfast. From the Lodge, we walked east on Portal Road to Hitari Lane where we caught many birds getting their start on the day. There was a BOTTERI’S SPARROW, several BLUE GROSBEAK, a male PYRRHULOXIA and a pair of BARN SWALLOWS that caught my attention. A lone fledgling was balanced on a utility wire flapping its wings like mad…where’s my food…where’s my food…??? Although my camera didn’t catch the exchange of food, the young bird quieted down immediately after the adult brought its breakfast.

Note fluttering wings of the hungry juvenile Barn Swallo

Barn Swallows (juvie had just been fed)

Birds preferred "stick" photos this trip: Male Pyrrhuloxia

Male Blue Grosbeak [Photo by Diane Ciulla]

After our communal breakfast at the picnic table on the deck between rooms at the Lodge, we headed out to the South Fork of Cave Creek. It was somewhat dark within the forest and I have no photos. But birding kept us there for 1.5 hours.  Our best sightings were: DUSKY-CAPPED FLYCATCHER, BLACK-THROATED GRAY WARBLER, CANYON WREN, BROWN CREEPER, HEPATIC TANAGER AND ARIZONA WOODPECKER. We saw 21 species in all but not the Elegant Trogon that would have been a Life Bird for several in the group.

With no cell service, our next stop was to the Southwest Research Station, also in Cave Creek Canyon, to determine whether we could eat dinner there.Yes! Reservations were made for the 6 p.m. cafeteria-style meal, whatever it would be.

By 11:10 a.m., we had found our way into Pinery Canyon where recent reports of the Mexican Chickadee led us to search for it there. It was cool in the forest (77-81°F) where we stayed over an hour to also include our lunch, carried from home. Among the CORDILLERAN FLYCATCHERS, ACORN WOODPECKERS AND YELLOW-EYED JUNCOS, we managed to come up with two MEXICAN CHICKADEES. I think Sue found that rarity for us; it was a Life Bird for all but me. Yay for Sue to get on them so high up in the trees as they moved so quickly.
[With friends and a young guide back on June 27, 2013, I had seen that visiting bird for the first time when Ben Barkley led us to it in Rustler Park.]

Corderillan Flycatcher

We were all fascinated by a colorful lizard that Jane in our group later identified as a Yarrow’s Spiny Lizard. It refused to look toward me and I couldn't get to its other side.

Yarrow's Spiny Lizard




Pleased with our sighting of the Mexican Chickadee, we headed farther up the road toward Rustler Park. The higher we climbed, the darker the storm clouds became. 

Not wanting to eat the dust of the front car, Theona was about 50-100 yards back when a SHORT-TAILED HAWK flew across the road in front of us. Theona honked her horn for the front car (didn’t hear it) as we jumped out to get great looks at this very white bird (looking up at it).  Against the dark storm cloud every ID marker was so well defined, it looked like it could have sailed right out of Sibley’s field guide:

 black “fingers” (primary tips) at the end of the long white wings; 
a fist-sized translucent spot just inside the comma of the primaries;
the dark trailing edge on the light wings;
and bands on the tail.

It was flying out and away from us but turned, so several of us stood with cameras ready for its return. We were standing at a cleared open part of the forest; the hawk turned “left” behind thick tall trees never to come into view again. A photo would have been perfect there with the dark storm-cloud background, but I was giddy anyway from such a clear sighting of a rarely seen hawk in Arizona.


Short-tailed Hawk - Internet Photo





When we reached Rustler Park, the other birders were already on the trail but there was a Forest Service thinning project in full motion.  Cut limbs were stacked teepee style nearby; farther up the trail such stacks were being burned.





We came upon many YELLOW-EYED JUNCOS near the rest rooms there, including a juvenile.

Thunder grew closer; a streak of lightening was seen. Having just read of a young man (17 yrs old) being struck dead by lightening on Humphrey’s Peak in Flagstaff, we were all more than ready to head to the cars.



There was no rain in sight when we returned to the Portal Lodge. We took a rest break before walking west on Portal Road to Dave Jasper's yard (tip from Gordon Karre) where we saw 18 species in a short period of time. Some photos (good and poor) below:

Black-throated Sparrow (handsome guy)

Rufous Hummingbird

Blue-throated Hummingbird

Female Hooded Oriole at a jelly jar

Canyon Towhee

Cactus Wren


Broad-billed Hummingbird  [Photo by Diane Ciulla]

Magnificent Hummingbird [Photo by Diane Ciulla]

Acorn Woodpecker
Pyrrhuloxia -above and below



Dave was out in the yard with our group and two other gentlemen that showed up a little after we did. He pointed out specific birds and also clued us in to the location of a Blue-throated Hummingbird's nest at the Portal Lodge.  So, when we returned a couple of us tracked it down. You can see how big the hummer is compared to our Anna's Hummingbird of the Phoenix Valley and other small hummers that visit the feeders even here in Portal. Most hummingbird nests are the size of a thimble. Look at this one and also how much bird is sitting on top of the open nest.  It is 5" long compared to an Anna's at 4" and a Calliope at 3.25".


Blue-throated Hummingbird on its nest


We drove over to the Southwestern Research Station with time allowed before dinner to walk the grounds and the birding trail.  What luck! In a relatively short time, we spotted five NORTHERN FLICKER, several CASSIN'S KINGBIRD, five AMERICAN ROBIN, a few PAINTED REDSTART and three RED CROSSBILL.

The BarBQ, mashed potatoes, beans, veggies, salad and rolls made for a substantial and tasty meal. I couldn't even eat dessert. Seconds were available.

I opted out of the Owling Walk after we returned to the Lodge; thunder and lightening were headed our way.

DAY #3 WEDNESDAY, July 27th
Although we had planned to have a couple meals at the Portal Cafe, we chose to continue breakfast with our contributed "left-overs" that still tasted very good.

Since other birders provided us with more specific directions on where to look for the Elegant Trogons in Cave Creek Canyon's South Fork, we headed there after checking out of the Lodge.

It proved to be a good decision. There were more PLUMBEOUS VIREO (3 adults and 1 juvie); PAINTED REDSTART (6); BLACK PHOEBE (2); WESTERN TANAGER (1); ACORN WOODPECKER (6).

Best of all, both the male and the female ELEGANT TROGON drew us in with their barking. No photo op, but both were seen by all of us. Yet another Life Bird for many in the group.

That left but one more stop in the Chiricahuas: The George Walker House in Paradise.
We spent an hour in Jackie Lewis' birding yard catching good looks at more good birds. Also, it was good for me too catch up with her since I hadn't seen her since we were together over at Big Bend NP over a year ago. I may need to visit her B&B there in Paradise. Being off the beaten track sometimes has advantages.

We left Paradise around 10:30 and returned to I-10 via the mostly dirt road to San Simon.  With another stop in Willcox for lunch at the same Dining Car BarBQ restaurant where we stopped on Day #1, we again filled ourselves for the trip home.

Several of us had met Theona at her place in Chandler so three of us dispersed from there around 4:30 p.m. The others had met Kathe at her house in Scottsdale, so we had said our "good-byes" in Willcox. I was home by about 5 p.m., but others had farther to drive.

With 13 checklists over the three days of birding, we had seen 100 species of birds, five (5) of which were Year Birds for me (first time I've seen them this year): Baird's Sandpiper, Blue-throated Hummingbird; Calliope Hummingbird, Mexican Chickadee and Red Crossbill.

Not only was the birding good, there was great camaraderie among us birders. Memorable trip.

As always, you can click on the links below to see the full list of birds observed at each of the thirteen birding spots we visited.

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More Target Birding; Oak Creek Canyon-Cave Springs CG, Coconino County, AZ

Thursday, July 21st
Yesterday, my friend, Susan Fishburn, who gets Rare Bird Alerts by the hour, invited me to join her today to search for another LIFE BIRD (for both of us): a YELLOW-THROATED VIREO. Steve and Joan Hosmer were also able to come along. They, too, are accustomed to getting up at the crack of dark to search out rarities where they might show up in Arizona.

Sedona is not all that distant and we arrived as planned at 7 a.m.  

View above from Cave Springs Camp Ground, Oak Creek Canyon


The words no birder wants to hear from another birder after getting up at 2 a.m. and driving for three hours are: "We saw the Yellow-throated Vireo about fifteen (15) minutes ago!"

Jason Wilder and his friend had arrived at 6:45, and were able to take a photo of the bird at its known location. They continued to look with us in the same open picnic area just beyond the registration office for the campground. I heard a vireo. Hmmm. Wrong one: Plumbeous. 

The place was birdy - just not our bird. 



Cordilleran Flycatcher

Our sighting list grew. After two hours we walked through the campground to the Host sites where feeders were attracting many hummingbirds. Rufous Hummingbirds are uncommon where I live in the desert east of Phoenix but this place was literally humming with them.


Rufous Hummingbird - above and below 


Many Broad-tailed Hummingbirds were active but I spotted only one Anna's Hummingbird.

Okay, back to our target bird.

Another birding couple had arrived. The next time we heard a vireo, it was behind us -- on the east side of Oak Creek.  Ron Auler and his wife were focused on tall leafy trees so we followed suit. Ron called out that he was on our bird. Steve saw part of it and felt like it was our target bird, but he wanted to be absolutely sure he saw enough identification markers to call it for sure.

So we stayed for another hour or so...during which time, I walked back to the car to get my sandwich and some water.  I heard a Hermit Thrush and saw two Hairy Woodpeckers as I walked to the parking lot.


Male Hairy Woodpecker was out and about with a juvenile.
Hurrying back, I hoped I hadn't taken up TARGET BIRD time for my photo of the Hairy WP.  Had they seen it yet?  No. Soon, though, Steve called out.  There it is. Both Susan and I got on the spot just in time to see the Yellow-throated Vireo fly. It was a blur. But we had heard it several times and saw it fly deeper into the leaves and out of sight.  -- Another bird, I'll list as a Life Bird with the caveat that I definitely need a better look. (as I had done in April with my previous Lifer, Hudsonian Godwit).


Yellow-throated Vireo; photo from Audubon internet site
It was what I called a disappointing success. No good looks at the very fast-moving Vireo; and no chance for a photo. Still, with Steve's accurate identification, we know we were on the right bird and were glad to finally find it.

It was definitely worth the visit to Sedona to escape the desert heat of 114°F.




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Target Birding, Maricopa County, Arizona

Saturday, July 16th
There’s nothing quite like waking up to news of a rare bird within driving distance!

On Friday (7/15), I decided against chasing a very rare phenomenon and was feeling bummed out about it when I awoke early (4 a.m.) on Saturday and was considering giving chase to two BLACK SKIMMERS at a farmer’s pond over in the far West Valley of Phoenix - east of Route 85 South, on Lower River Road. Duane Morse happened to have been there, photographed them and put it out on the Rare Bird Alert.

It was almost noontime when I saw the notice yesterday and I just couldn’t bring myself to get out into I-10 Friday afternoon traffic. But if you’ve ever seen Black Skimmers (highly unusual but sleek-looking birds) you know they are found on beaches and marsh ponds not inland. But here they were at a farmer’s pond, skimming the water with their extended lower beak to catch fish, then resting on land. Many birder friends showed up and got wonderful photos. The photo below is one I took at Bolsa Chica, CA in July 2013.

Black Skimmer

At 4 a.m., Saturday morning, I awoke with birder’s remorse, got up and figured I’d get myself over to the pond by daylight to see if they had hung around. It seemed unlikely but what the heck. Traffic would be light and I should arrive within an hour.

As I took the first sip of coffee, I looked at new emails.  Holy Jumpin’ Jehosophat!
A HUDSONIAN GODWIT had been located by birder, Kurt Radamaker yesterday at a dairy SLOP POND not terribly far from where he had observed the rare Black Skimmers. That was a MUST SEE bird for me!  I got such a poor quick look in a cloudy sky when that bird flew over my head in April in Texas, that I needed to see it long enough to get a good look. Even though I counted it as a Life Bird, the ID was made by our trip guide and I really only saw the godwit’s silhouette.

Coffee and breakfast were quickly set aside as I dressed and got on the road. I did stop first to look for the Black Skimmers that were no longer there.  So I took off for the Slop Pond, a a short distance away, where many birders were already observing the Hudsonian Godwit through spotting scopes at quite a distance into the private property where the owner prefers birders to stand back at the road (liability). 

Among the birders were several I knew: Tommy, Caleb, Chris, Moe and Louis. I used both Caleb’s and Moe’s spotting scope for excellent views of the HUDSONIAN GODWIT in breeding plumage. Now, I could amend my notes on my Life List to indicate I really did get a good look at this unusual bird in - of all places -- Arizona. [It migrates mostly through the midwest from south Texas to northern Canada.]

Although my views were great, my photos at that distance with heat waves between us were lousy. Much better photos by friends are posted below.


Hudsonian Godwit at Dairy Slop Pond, West Valley of Phoenix. Photo by Steve Hosmer.

 Same Hudsonian Godwit in flight - silhouette of this species I had seen in Texas. Photo by Laura Ellis.

What an exhilarating Saturday morning!


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Tucson & Mt. Lemmon, Pima County, AZ - for Two Days

Wednesday & Thursday, July 13 & 14

Day #1
Leaving the Phoenix area in the wee hours of Wednesday morning, Marcee Sherrill, Susan Fishburn and I arrived at our first birding destination a little before 6:30 a.m. Formerly known as Coachline Gravel Pit, this Santa Cruz River Open Area has become a birders’ urban dream-location. A couple years ago, the river broke through a dam and flowed into what was then a very well known and highly used Disc Golf Course. The Town of Marana decided it was more cost-effective and environmentally friendly to maintain it as the immediate lake it had become in the flood (thank you, birders) than to repair the dam.

Summertime is not the best time to find water anywhere but there was a remnant survival pond still viable close to the berm where we walked. 

Flycatchers, swallows, sparrows, finches, waterfowl and other desert birds provided us with 20 species in 40 minutes. Winter brings a greater variety of waterfowl and a great supporting cast of riparian songsters.

Vermilion Flycatcher

Only because I wanted to visit with the “BLUE GOOSE” at Christopher Columbus Park did we head that direction not far from our first stop. Back when I birded in Virginia, I always scanned the hundreds upon hundreds of Snow Geese that wintered at Back Bay Wildlife Refuge for the one with a white head but dark body — then known as the “Blue Goose”.  

In today’s world, this goose has been brought into the Snow Goose family as a dark-colored morph. I have no idea how it landed at Silverbell Lake in Christopher Columbus Park nor how long it's been there, but after seeing a recent Facebook post of the bird, I wanted, for old time's sake, to see and photograph it up close. It was in the shade of the middle of the island.


Dark-color morph Snow Goose (formerly "Blue Goose")

Heading out, then, across Tucson, east toward Agua Caliente Park, we would attempt to locate a Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet and a Purple Martin for Susan’s list.  Before reaching the park, we spotted our first Purple Martin and there would be more when we reached our destination. 

Although the tyrannulet eluded us, I was pleasantly surprised to see a male Blue-winged Teal swimming around in the main pond by itself. It’s not the most common wintering duck and generally arrives later in the Phoenix area. Perhaps it caught an early wind.


Same Blue-winged Teal in two photos above; different lighting
Under a hazy sky, the temperature was already 91°F before 10 a.m.  So, we were glad to get started on the drive up to the higher and cooler elevations of Mt. Lemmon to explore the different birding habitat in the Coronado National Forest. 



Did you know that Mt. Lemmon was named after a woman? 

Sarah Plummer Lemmon was the first white woman to scale its peak (9,157’).  She and her husband, John, from Santa Barbara, were botanists who honeymooned in the Catalina Mountains. With the help of a local rancher, E.O. Stratton, they trekked to the top by foot and by horse in 1881.

Taking Marcee's air-conditioned Subaru up the paved Catalina Highway (Mt. Lemmon Road) suited me just fine.  We passed by many of the lower elevation desert birding habitats to reach places we suspected of harboring more variety of birds. 

First stop: The Visitor's Center known as the Palisades Area. I stayed outside to watch the one hummingbird feeder. Broad-tailed Hummingbirds seemed to own the spot until a large Magnificent Hummer arrived when they pulled up and let the big bird in!


There were 5 Broad-tailed Hummers at this feeder at one time. Hard to see the 5th - left)



We spent only 20 minutes there before heading to Bear Wallow where we would park the car and follow a trail into the forest.


Susan Fishburn & Marcee Sherrill


We heard and saw numerous House Wrens but they love to move about in tangles and wood piles so photographs of it are tough and rare for me to get.

House Wren that must have paused for half a second


Summerhaven, as its name implies, is home to many desert dwellers during the hottest months of summer.  We took time to observe the bird feeders at the realtor's office. Male and female Black-headed Grosbeak and a White-breasted Nuthatch were frequent visitors along with many other birds.





Getting hungry, we decided to bird Marshall Gulch at the end of Summerhaven and enjoy the picnic tables in the shade.








The Yellow-eyed Juncos (above) were glad to see us and came close to the picnic table. Note the difference between the top "mature" bird and the juvenile at the bottom that still has dark eyes, striped head and underneath feathers.

With sustenance, we continued on up the mountain where the temperature at 2 p.m. was a mild 77°F.  Yay!  We walked the trails and roads up beyond Ski Valley toward the observatory but not out to that restricted area.

Of all the birds we saw up there, the most interesting were the Western Bluebirds. The juveniles weren't timid, but the adult male stayed far off.  So far off, I kept wondering if it might be an Eastern Bluebird because I couldn't see its blue throat/neck feathers. The photo confirmed it was Western.





We had one more stop on the mountain we wanted to make before returning to Tucson. Since Marcee used to live in this area and spent a lot of time on Mt. Lemmon, we were lucky to have her showing us some of her favorite spots. 

Mt. Bigelow Road was a place she didn't want to miss. And, I am so glad. It provided a rather interesting, if not hilarious, forest drama for us.  I watched them for at least ten minutes!

Following a commotion, we came upon two adult American Robins attacking a young Red-tailed Hawk who was simply staying on the limb it occupied and watching them.  

This went on for some time with the hawk not moving a feather. Once it noticed us, it moved its head away from the robins who quieted down.






Since it takes almost an hour to get down the mountain, we were ready for dinner by the time we reached E Tanque Verde where we would spend the night before venturing up the hill again in the morning.

Day #2
It was almost 8 a.m. when we reached Incinerator Ridge high up on Anna Lemmon's mountain. But what delightful birds!  We were greeted with a feeding flock and song seemed to be coming from both sides of the road we walked.

Some of the new birds for our trip included Plumbeous Vireo, Anna's Hummingbird, Greater Pewee, Bushtits, Black-throated Gray Warbler and Red-breasted Nuthatch. Red-faced Warblers kept popping up everywhere!  Marcee and Susan spied a Red-tailed Hawk waay out in the forest.



This first walk of the day proved to be the most satisfying for me of our two-day birding trip. When we reached the end of Incinerator Ridge, I took photos out over the mountain/valley








We also managed to get some hawks in flight (Gray Hawk and Zone-tailed) -- one on each day which are reflected in our eBird lists below.

Wrapping up at the Iron Door Restaurant to watch the hummingbird feeders and other birds at the top of the mountain, we drank lots of fluids even though the temp was a cool 71°F.


Yellow-eyed Junco on the railing beside our table out on the deck of Iron Door Restaurant

Marcee and Susan

Common Raven that was using a "caw caw" voice [just beyond the deck]

This adult of the Interior West shows white forehead marks
 not seen on other geographically located Steller's Jays


With close proximity to these birds topping off our morning, we decided that if we wanted to avoid commuter traffic to our respective homes, we should probably head down the mountain. We had not yet visited all of Marcee's favorite spots, but have saved some for the next time.  I was able to get home by 4 p.m. - over 110°F. but with cool memories.

In two days, we logged in a total of 63 species and enjoyed various interactions of and with the birds.

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