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.



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.

* * *

1 comment:

  1. Holy moly!!!! A Short-tailed hawk! And with a pic!!! That is awesome! Looks like an amazing time. Now about that cooper's hawk. I think they love the lemony taste of kingbirds. I've seen them go after every shade of yellow. They love the juveniles in the nests. I've watched Tropical, Western and Cassin's go after these hawks so many times this summer. Fascinating observations! Sounds like a good crew!