Catch-up Blog: Sweetwater Wetlands & Mt. Lemmon, Pima County; Pinal Mountain and San Carlos Apache Nation, Gila & Pinal Counties

September 15 & 16: 
DAY #1: 9/15/16
Departing Marcee’s house in Scottsdale around 6:45 a.m., we stopped at Coachline Gravel Pit to check out water levels and numbers of birds. Since our overall objective was to bird Mt. Lemmon, we quickly decided to pass this location even though in five minutes we had seen a male Vermilion Flycatcher, a Belted Kingfisher and several Killdeer. It just didn't seem inviting.

Sweetwater Wetlands was definitely worth a stop, not only to stretch our legs but to get some good looks at specialties. The first birds we spotted up in a leaf-less cottonwood tree near the entrance bridge were two TROPICAL KINGBIRDS.  

In all, we found 30 species of birds in one and a half hours as we walked a few of the trails through the wetlands. Other birders were busy spotting warblers along one particular trail with a hedge of tall thick salt bush.  We joined in, finding 3 ORANGE-CROWNED; 3 WILSON’S and 2 TOWNSEND’S WARBLERS at that particular spot. The whinny of two separately located SORA was also a thrill.

After driving across Tucson, we headed up Catalina Highway on Mt. Lemmon in the Coronado Forest to our first stop at Bear Canyon comprised of three picnic areas shaded with pine/oak trees. For me, the joy of birding in mountain habitat is finding birds that I seldom see in the desert like ACORN WOODPECKERS (a clownish-looking bird) and a GREATER PEWEE, often heard, not always seen. But it seemed curious about us and I managed a few photos during its brief visit.

Acorn Woodpecker
Greater Pewee

The small birds (chickadees, nuthatches and other warblers) were too busy foraging to pose for photos, but a bright female WESTERN TANAGER and an Arizona MEXICAN JAY gave me some time.

Female Western Tanager (above & below)

Arizona Mexican Jay
Having only one target bird on this trip, a Hermit Warbler, it was a no-show at Bear Canyon but at Summerhaven, Marcee spotted it before I did in the bushes behind the Community Center. What a thrill!  It was a female so instead of having the male’s complete yellow face and crown, it had a grayish cap and light facial marking behind its black eye. Unlike many warblers with yellow throats, breast and belly, this female had a blackish throat  (not strongly black like the male’s), grayish-white undersides and bright white undertail coverts. It was the best look I’ve ever enjoyed with a HERMIT WARBLER.

Female Hermit Warbler (internet photo)
Birds were growing quiet but I was going to new and previously unexplored spots on the mountain, making mental notes at each stop for future visits.

Best birds for the remainder of the day included:  ARIZONA WOODPECKER  and RED-BREASTED NUTHATCH (Mt. Bigelow Road) and STELLER’S JAY and PAINTED REDSTART at Incinerator Ridge.

DAY #2 9/16/16
This morning we met a friend of Marcee’s at the base of Mt. Lemmon. Pat was a great spotter and used Marcee’s binoculars to full advantage to enjoy some of the colorful birds like Painted Redstarts.

Painted Redstart
We all marveled at the brilliant contrast in the new feathers of the TOWNSEND’S WARBLER, enjoyed seeing our first AMERICAN ROBIN, two HERMIT THRUSHES, a HAIRY WOODPECKER and 9 WESTERN BLUEBIRDS.

At the summit trail toward the observatory, we came upon a small flock of Audubon’s YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLERS, the harbingers of more to come as summer fades to cooler temperatures.

L-R: Marcee and Pat

Can’t beat cool weather (50’s to 70”s), interesting birds and fine friends!
My species total for the two days reached 58.


PINAL MOUNTAIN, Sept. 14, 2016
Working backwards on the calendar, the day before Mt. Lemmon, I joined Dave Pearson and his friend, Miles, for some good birding on Pinal Mountain in Globe. We birded for six hours from Russell Gulch (including the landfill) up the mountain road making many stops to listen for and to find some nifty birds.

OLIVE-SIDED FLYCATCHER and WESTERN WOOD-PEWEE both perched up for us on open limbs in typical flycatcher behavior.  From desert birds at the base of the mountain to WESTERN TANAGERS, LAZULI BUNTINGS, SCOTT’S and HOODED ORIOLES all observed prior to Sulfide del Ray Campground, I knew it would be an awesome birding day.  (When is it not with Dr. Pearson??)

As we moved higher on the mountain, there were HUTTON’S, CASSIN’S AND PLUMBEOUS VIREOS as well as nuthatches, warblers and YELLOW-EYED JUNCOS.

My favorite birds of the day were the HAIRY WOODPECKERS and OLIVE WARBLERS!

Too busy birding for photos—but it was a grand day on Pinal Mountain where Dave tallied 76 species.


SAN CARLOS APACHE NATION (east of Globe, AZ) September 11, 2016
Having birded San Carlos Tribal Land on at least three or four previous occasions, I decided I knew the ropes and would do just fine on my own.

PERMITS are required for any activity on this Indian-owned land so I stopped at the 76 gas station (formerly Express Stop gas station) to pick up a recreation permit @ $10/person. It’s located on the north side of Highway 60 just prior to where Rt. 60 turns north toward the White Mountains. By going forward at that traffic light instead of turning, the highway becomes Route 70 toward San Carlos.

San Carlos Lake is well-signed about 20 miles beyond that intersection in Globe with a left turn into the community of Peridot. The road curves and becomes Route 171 and then changes to Indian Route #3 (IR3).

On my most recent trip with Glenda Jones in February, we discovered the sewage treatment ponds were fenced and locked up. Doug Jenness provided me with a map showing a road prior to the ponds that would lead to the back ponds, so I was game for giving it a shot.

Most roads off the highway are dirt/sand roads and this one was no exception. The exception became the condition of the road. After easily going through a shallow wash, the road narrowed so I decided to turn around…my car was not meant for this kind of adventure. It’s a trusty little Honda Insight (hybrid) that looks a bit like a Prius . . . definitely not a 4-wheel drive high-clearance vehicle.

The wash that was so simple going forward was much more challenging on the return. Instead of just gliding over it, I had to go up the 4” ? incline. My car was very responsive but it was at that moment I realized it had front-wheel drive. Who needs to know these things on highway driving?  When I realized I had a problem, I got out to inspect my situation. The back tires were on flat solid sand, so I thought I should be able to front-wheel drive myself backwards.  Don’t laugh too hard!  My tires responded by digging down…down…down into loose sand…until, if I had continued, I swear it would have taken the whole back end up in the air. So - I had very responsive strong front-wheel drive that was beginning to bury the front end in loose sand. 

No longer do I carry a shovel with me as I did when I went camping. With no appropriate tools, I found a strong broken tree limb to begin pulling sand out from under that slick-looking molded plastic along the front of the car that was acting like a bull-dozer. It was already getting hot out there. I had a cell signal and have AAA Plus, but figured I’d miss my birding at the lake if I had to wait all morning to be rescued. So, back behind the wheel I tried once more with that front-wheel drive wanting to prove to me how very good it was. I was in deeper than before.

Trying to flag down help along the paved road took precedence in my mind over calling AAA until I was desperate and out of options.  Yes, it was early on Sunday morning and traffic so light that I had to wait 15 minutes for a vehicle to come into sight. Fortunately, it was a truck.  When I waved my hands to flag it down, fortunately it stopped. The driver backed up to where I stood. He could see my predicament as my car was still in sight. I asked if there might be a way he could help me out of the sand.

He said, he did happen to have a chain in the bed of the big pick up. His next word was: “Money?”  I said, “Yes” and hoped the small amount of cash I had would suffice. I told him I had a permit and was on my way to the lake except for this detour to the sewage ponds.  He nodded and said, “Ducks?”  “Yes!”  (Like, sometimes sea scoters.) I was wearing my binoculars.

The two “senior” men rescued me for the sweet sum of $25.00 (all I had but $1s) and I breathed a great sigh of relief and wonderment. Guardian angel?!  I sat in the car at the edge of the highway just breathing for awhile to calm my nerves and transition back into a plan for birding.

All went well as I birded Coolidge Dam area as well as the north side of San Carlos Lake.  Much of my birding was done from a cliff, so birds were mostly too distant for photos, but I managed a few.

Graceful WESTERN and CLARK’S GREBES were abundant as were AMERICAN WHITE PELICAN’S.  I counted 125 and that did not include a huge colony at the far east end of the lake that was too distant to estimate with my spotting scope. When I looked back over recent birding lists for that location, Doug Jenness listed over 600 of them.

American White Pelicans above and below

Western/Clark's Grebes

A BALD EAGLE, OSPREY, GREAT BLUE HERONS AND GREAT EGRETS also enjoyed what the lake offered.  And, as I stood on one of the cliffs, I saw three terns flying toward me.  With no black cap in sight and showing mostly white belly and light gray underwings, I concluded they were FORSTER’S TERNS.  

Great Blue Heron

Osprey on bridge structure over Coolidge Dam (two above photos)

Somehow, on this date most of us remember well - September 11th - I had set out with a plan to do a special birding trip to a place I rarely visit. What I didn't know was how memorable this day would become for me. I felt grateful for the help I got with my stuck car which reinforced the goodness of strangers. This was very prevalent during the tragic events of 9/11...where a big city full of strangers became One.

* * *


  1. Some great photos here. Love the Hermit Warbler - wish they'd wait for me to arrive before going further south. Looking forward to a trip to Mount Lemmon when you would suggest finding good stuff there. So nice to read these blogs and have some knowledge of the locations and the birds. Am getting ready for 'year 2'.

  2. Great! We'll continue to explore new places.