Birding Cochise, Santa Cruz and Pima Counties, Arizona

JULY 2, 3 & 4 with Muriel Neddermeyer

What better way to spend the July 4th Weekend than to celebrate our FREEDOM.
We were two women free to make the decision to leave our homes to go birding approximately 200 miles away.
We were two women free to execute that decision by driving ourselves to our destination in Sierra Vista and arranging appropriate lodging.
Not every woman in the world can do these things. Freedoms tend to erode when they’re not recognized or used. It seems a small thing, yet I’m grateful.

Day #1  Saturday, July 2nd
After a 200-mile drive to Sierra Vista, Muriel pulled up to our target bird’s known location on Moson Road at 6:45 a.m. and parked immediately because we were looking at this rare Gulf Coast visitor: SCISSOR-TAILED FLYCATCHER

Male Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
Having seen this bird in Texas on several occasions, I was now observing it for the first time in Arizona - what we birders call a “State Bird”

It was being harassed by four Western Kingbirds and eventually took off, flying over our heads.  Other birders assured us it would be back within twenty minutes. It’s a beauty, so we waited.

Rising from the grasslands surrounding us were songs of unusual sparrows to us desert birders: Botteri’s and Cassin’s, the latter being the first time I had heard or seen it this year-- - making it a Year Bird. I got totally absorbed with the sparrows until the star of this show returned. Taking Center Stage whether it perches on top of a tree, on a fence, or a weed, this is one magnificent and tantalizing bird.

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher catching an insect  [Photo by Muriel Neddermeyer]
It wasn't easy leaving this bird but we had many others to see in this Southeastern part of Arizona, one of the premier birding locations in the world.

Second stop: Miller Canyon. Muriel wanted to see the Northern Goshawk that I had visited two weeks ago. Hopefully, it will still be around. 

I led us to a trail in the general area -- not the specific area where the goshawk had zoomed in on me to get out of its territory -- but we neither saw nor heard this infrequently seen bird.

We lucked out when, back on the road another birder shared his sighting of a Gray Hawk nest we could spot deep in the forest tree. We spotted two young birds in the nest.

Gray Hawk nest with two fledglings [Photo by Muriel Neddermeyer]

We also had a very close look at a Western Wood-Pewee's nest right along the road. 

Nestling Western Wood-Pewee [Photo by Muriel Neddermeyer]

Adult Western Wood-Pewee returned to protect young in nest above [Photo by Muriel Neddermeyer]

We walked on up to the hummingbird feeder area at Tom Beatty's place where we saw a good number of species EXCEPT the White-eared Hummer that had been reported recently and one I really like. While many people have access to only one hummingbird in their area (Ruby-throated-Eastern USA) and some have no access to them, we saw four species during our brief visit: Broad-billed, Broad-tailed, Black-chinned and Magnificent (males and females of each).

Tom told us the young goshawk had now fledged so that our best chance of seeing the birds(s) was to walk back and forth along the dirt road. YES!  Muriel got her ZOOM fly-by from the adult bird while the juvenile stayed perched on a limb quite a distance beyond the road.

Adult Northern Goshawk perched not terribly far from where I stood after it buzzed Muriel farther down the road
it's still looking back at her

Juvenile Northern Goshawk deep in the forest
Knowing that Mary Jo's Ash Canyon B&B with its birdy habitat and outstanding number of feeders, jam and peanut butter containers and orange halves was close by, we drove up there. I had not yet seen a Scaled Quail this year so I was hoping to find one in that area that is surrounded with grasslands. We enjoyed watching the action among Mexican Jays, Bullock's Oriole, Hepatic Tanager and the usual White-breasted Nuthatch and other birds. A fly-over Gray Hawk was another feel-good sighting; it's a small gray hawk but beautiful to watch. No Scaled Quail appeared during our visit.

That left Ramsey Canyon as our next destination. Lack of sufficient sleep last night was beginning to catch up with me so I was glad when Muriel asked if I wanted to walk up Bledsoe Loop. Of course! That will wake me up. And, so it did.

We spotted a Cooper's hawk nest in a tree above the trail. Although well camouflaged and well above my head, it appeared to have two young birds. The adult came in to feed once while we watched the action.

Two fledgling Cooper's Hawks were visible

Dark clouds were gathering over the mountain; thunder growled in the distance.  We skipped a visit to Brown Ranch to wrap up our day with a bite to eat at a popular local restaurant with good food. Buckets full of rain poured down while we enjoyed a meal that supplemented our fruit, nut and sandwich snacks all day. After filling up, we were more than ready to check into our motel.

Day #2  Sunday, July 3rd
Birding has taken me to many places in Arizona. When I look at the map of SEAZ, though, there was one place I had never visited. Earlier in Springtime, I had called the Appleton-Whittell Research Ranch to inquire about appropriate procedures for visiting and was told if I wanted to see birds, the best time would be during the monsoon season. That time is NOW!
Because of their work, this National Audubon Society project restricts public access and permission is necessary.

Distracted by nearby wildlife and those rare monsoon sparrows (Botteri's, Grasshopper and Cassin's), we stopped frequently for photos along Upper Elgin Road before reaching the turn-off for the research ranch.

As close as I've ever been to a Pronghorn. Taken from car to side of road.
Habitat of the grasslands includes many yucca, mesquite, live oak and blooming prickly poppy
Prickly Poppy commonly known as "Cowboy Fried Egg"
Me and my little camera - SEAZ grasslands

Pronghorn along Upper Elgin Road

Grasshopper Sparrow

Bottteri's Sparrow

We finally reached our destination and while talking outside her residence with Dr. Linda Kennedy, the director, I spotted several Scaled Quail near her front door. I excused myself and tried for some pics but the birds were too quick. There were two adults and a young right there and two more possible adults at road's edge.  So! I saw my Scaled Quail "Year Birds".  They have a cute little cotton-ball crest but since I missed the photo op, this is from the internet.

We spent two hours driving the roads and birding the grasslands of the research ranch and were delighted to have the opportunity for such access. I've never posted 19 Botteri's Sparrows on one list before and that is a conservative count for the ranch. 

Eastern Meadowlark

One of the researchers told us that most of the meadowlarks are Eastern, not Western; and that the majority of the Eastern are the "Lilian's" southwest subspecies.

After wrapping up there, Muriel drove into the south entrance of Las Cienegas grasslands, a route I had never taken. We stopped at the:

During her springtime visit, the place was dripping with birds.  Today, not so much. . . but we collected ten species including the brilliant and active male Vermilion Flycatcher.

In an effort to see another difficult Target Bird, we drove over to St. David where we birded  Golden Bell Road without finding the Mississippi Kite that's been reported there. Trouble is, the bird is usually seen flying over Route 80 through town and traffic was thick today. So, we went into the bird-friendly Holy Trinity Monastery around 2:12 p.m. with the temperature 95°. Was surprised to see other "crazy" birders arrive at this time of day to enjoy the pond area where we had the Tropical Kingbird and a Yellow-billed Cuckoo. They, too, were really after the Kite.

When we left there, we drove up toward Golden Bell Road once more and BINGO! - there is no mistaking a Mississippi Kite - we saw our bird fly over the highway and into the top of a tree where it landed. Yay! Another State Bird.

Since we hadn't yet birded the San Pedro House and River, we headed south again. But our long day was catching up with us and we didn't stay long.

Muriel had never visited the EOP (Environmental Operations Project), so after a quick stop along Moson Road where we picked up another State Bird, Common Nighthawk, we stopped and visited the deck at EOP where birds were scant but loud.  

After a ten-hour birding day, we got a bite to eat, tallied up our lists and submitted them to eBird before crashing for another night.

Day #3 Monday, July 4th
Up early again, we had eaten breakfast and checked out by 6 a.m. Today was a big day for Muriel. If we could find the Black-capped Gnatcatcher at Florida Canyon, she would reach her 500th Life Bird.

So, I was pleasantly surprised at how often she stopped to bird along our short-cut on Greaterville/Box Canyon Road. Birds were everywhere along the dirt road that we had to ourselves so I was glad she was taking it all in. It took us an hour and forty minutes to drive the 11 miles over to Florida Canyon from Route 90. For wooded, semi-grassy habitat we saw 36 species that we knew.

Then, we arrived at Florida Canyon.  When we heard birds, we stopped and Muriel almost immediately said, "It's them!"  I got out slowly, brought up my bins and stared. Dang!  She's good! 

Black-capped Gnatcatcher; mostly white under tail; long beak [Photo by Muriel Neddermeyer]
Yay for Muriel!  LIFE BIRD #500.

From Florida, we drove over to Madera Canyon to Santa Rita Lodge and the hummingbirds. We were hoping to see the rare Berylline Hummingbird that had been seen there recently. Instead, Muriel landed a Plain-capped Starthroat -- a bird I had waited to see for four hours (without success) about a month ago.

Plain-capped Starthroat; Santa Rita Lodge Hummingbird Garden [Photo by Muriel Neddermeyer]
Another Year Bird for each of us.

By this time, we knew there had been a sighting of a Purple Gallinule at Sweetwater Wetlands in Tucson, so we decided to stop there on the way home to see if we could find it as a State Bird.

Over 100°F when we arrived, it was a hot trek over to the southern deck of Keyhole Pond where, again, Muriel found our target bird while I was looking at two Common Gallinule. The Purple "chicken" was very close to us.

If you can get past the amazing colors of this bird, take a good look at its feet! [Photo by Muriel Neddermeyer]

We were more than ready to get back to the car and head home after such a rewarding and intensive bird outing. Muriel was great company and we each added to our sightings for this year.

We saw a total of 107 species.  I saw 8 Year Birds of which 4 were State Birds.

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  1. What an amazing trek you guys had. I've never been to the research station but I would love to go and check that out someday. All of the birds are excellent finds you have on your post today! If you're ever down in the area and I'm around I'd love to bird with you.

  2. Sounds good to me; I'll let you know if/when.