Patagonia Lake State Park et al, Santa Cruz County, AZ

Thursday-Sunday; February 23, 24, 25, 26th
Glenda Jones, winter visitor and friend from Ontario, invited me to join her for a visit to Patagonia in southern Arizona for an intensive birding weekend. And, was it ever!!  

Three hours after leaving AJ at 2:00 p.m., we got itchy to do some birding. With Las Cienegas Grasslands fast approaching on SR 83, we decided to pull into the west entrance and check it out.  First bird seen: WHITE-TAILED KITE!

White-tailed Kite  [Photo: Glenda Jones]
Overcast sky and breezy weather kept most sparrows low, but when we drove through Empire Ranch we came upon two CHIHUAHUAN RAVENs foraging in some grass.

Chihuahuan Raven; shorter wings, less wedge-shaped tail and whitish neck feathers (revealed by breeze) separate it from Common Raven

Driving through the grasslands, we saw a pair of VERMILION FLYCATCHERS and a few other species, including two RED-TAILED HAWKS, before exiting by the South Road.

Red-tailed Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk 

After snapping this photo of the sunset on distant mountains, we spotted two Pronghorn prancing through the grasslands.

Our “Bird of the Day” was most certainly the one we spotted as we drove toward Sonoita soon after turning onto SR 82 as dark approached. At the Grasslands adjacent to the highway [near MP 33], we spotted a SHORT-EARED OWL flying low over Davis Pasture. Its broad rounded wings looking almost entirely white beneath puzzled me, but Glenda identified it immediately. What an amazing bird in flight! Life Bird for me!

Could our weekend of birding get any better than this first spontaneous stop? Well, altogether we would see over 100 species at 16 different locations. Not every bird gets our adrenalin going, but we saw many many good ones and some, even though seen at least once a year, that still make our blood run fast. Some of these sightings are shared below.

Day #2 Friday, February 24

Patagonia is a funky artsy laid-back community. I could find no breakfast available prior to 7:00 a.m. so I started birding Patagonia City Park at 6:30 a.m. (26°F). 

The City Park is a wide median strip between two roads book-ended with the old train station on the north and public restrooms painted with a multi-colored mural on the south end. I had walked over from Stage Stop Inn and was trying to track down the source of a bird call. Of the 26 COMMON RAVENs we had counted coming into roost last night, I noted only two remained in the Park. Mature junipers and pines and a number of tall deciduous trees fill the area. The dee dee dee call I was hearing was coming from a very dense bushy tree with waxy green leaves. It seemed full of HOUSE FINCHES and LESSER GOLDFINCHES and it was the latter that appeared to have been making the call since when a LEGO flew to another tree the dee dee dee also came from there. 

After breakfast, I revisited the City Park again with Glenda where we spied a SHARP-SHINNED HAWK perched quietly in waiting.

Sharp-shinned Hawk

By 8:20, we were at the hummingbird feeders at the beginning of the Birding Trail (36°F) where we learned from volunteers that three of them would be leading a bird walk at 9:00.
We decided to check it out, so hung around the feeding area since so many birds were in trees close to the trail.

PYRRHULOXIA (above and below) 

When thirty people showed up for the walk, we weren't sure we'd get involved. But when it was announced that the first group would be for those who knew the birds and/or had birded at Patagonia Lake State Park previously, seven of us (3 with extended lens cameras, of which Glenda was one) joined Pat, our leader and we were quickly off and away from all the others.

Some of the birds we saw:

Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Bridled Titmouse  [Photo: Glenda Jones]

Look closely; its camouflaged. Distant WILSON'S SNIPE

PLUMBEOUS VIREO  [Photo: Glenda Jones]

Pat ended up being a great guide; I went on a new trail but missed a few of the birds I wanted to see even though he saw them. One such was the WINTER WREN. So after 2.5 hours of birding with him, Glenda and I stayed back to see if we could relocate it while the other five went on up to the hummingbird area where the two of us had started our day. We lucked out and got good views.


Ate our sandwiches at a picnic table beside Patagonia Lake but made no list as we expected to bird it well later on.

Next stop on our agenda was the internationally known "Paton's House" that, since the demise of the elderly couple who hosted folks in their very birdy back yard for years, has been purchased and is being managed by Tucson Audubon. Now known as Tucson Audubon's Paton Center, it was undergoing significant construction while we visited but were assured that its draw - Violet-crowned Hummingbird - would show up at the relocated feeders in the front yard if we were patient.  The photo below shows the two hummingbird feeders on the left side of the trail leading down to the wash; we were seated on benches to the right of the trail and feeders.

A bird most of us in AZ are familiar with is the GILA WOODPECKER.  The male shown here below is enjoying the suet feeder at Paton's.

After about an hour of watching many other birds, I saw the star attraction arrive and called it out.
Cameras clicked all around me. My excitement must have blurred all my photos of this gorgeous large hummer with white front, red bill tipped with black and a violet crown.


Photo: Glenda Jones

As we headed toward the car, who should we see approaching but Jackie Yoder, friend and neighbor from our RV community.

On my southward birding trips, I usually stay just one night in Patagonia so it was fun for me to explore and to show Glenda all the places I've managed to visit in the past several years. I wanted to show her some of the back roads that, in season, produce some awesome birds. Today at 3:40 p.m. birds were rather quiet, but Harshaw Creek Road took us through some beautiful country. The top two birds on our very short list were: NORTHERN HARRIER (female) and CANYON WREN, photo below.

Photo: Glenda Jones

After a bite to eat at Velvet Elvis, we worked on submitting our data to eBird on a very slow server...before resting up for another full day in the wild.

Day #3 Saturday, February 25
Yesterday, we had signed up for the 9 a.m. one-hour Birding Tour of Lake Patagonia in a small pontoon boat (10 of us aboard).  Those thick reeds we couldn't see through yesterday on the Bird Trail could now be viewed from the lake side. We covered the Sonoita Creek end of the 2.5-mile lake, moving slowly around edges of the Lake to find what we couldn't see from the Trail.

A highlight for me were the male and female COMMON MERGANSER swimming together.

A drake CINNAMON TEAL is always a duck to behold.

This RUDDY DUCK below is getting its mating-plumage blue bill.

LESSER and GREATER SCAUP are sorted out mostly by head shape with the more pointed head being the LESSER, below, and the more rounded, second below, being the GREATER. Drake and hen Greater Scaup were swimming together.

Both local species of cormorant were present: NEOTROPIC and DOUBLE-CRESTED:

Nootropic Cormorant

Both species
Double-crested Cormorant

Along the eastern shoreline were seven or more BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT HERON

As we approached the dock thinking about how many wonderful waterfowl we had seen, what came into sight was awesome. A raft of 30+ female COMMON MERGANSERS, below.

Think the $5 investment for the boat birding was worth it?  You betcha!!

Having sat in the boat for an hour, we were both ready to stretch our legs. Glenda has planned knee surgery for early June and having given the knee a good workout yesterday decided the short walk down to the spillway and dam area would be simpler, perhaps, than the birding trail.

Sometimes we see more than birds.

I called this bull, CURLY BLONDE.  Note the red-carpet foot placement as it walked.

The bull, too, was on its way to the spillway - that allows water to flow over from the lake into the Sonoita Creek State Natural Area (now part of Patagonia State Park but requires a separate permit). The bull took its own path; we stayed on the road.

Failed to take a photo of the steep concrete grooved road leading down to the spillway but I'm not sure this was the best choice for Glenda after all. Crossing the shallow spillway led to a dirt road that curled up and around taking us (if we had taken it) to the earthen dam that we could have walked across. Instead, we cut through the mesquite desert area to view the lake below us. Finding four EARED GREBE was nice. Better yet, they were headed our way and by the time we returned to the spillway, I, too, was back and ready.


The one bull had now been joined by five others.

Glenda, with two of the Curly Blondes
After lunching at a picnic table at the parking area there, we decided to check out a trail I hadn't yet seen or birded - Patagonia -Geoffrey Platts Trail. At 1:45 p.m. with a breeze kicking up, few birds showed themselves in the desert habitat. An ANNA'S HUMMINGBIRD, never a slacker, showed up and followed us on the Vista Trail that took us up almost 200' from our starting point for wonderful views of the surrounding mountains including the Patagonias.

Anna's Hummingbird

We chose to try to enter more data into eBird before eating an early pizza. I had decided it might be worthwhile to look for Montezuma Quail along Harshaw Road and the road into San Rafael Grasslands.  Long shot, but you don't know if you don't try. As we drove out of town at dusk, we watched the Common Ravens flying in to perch in the City Park.

Beautiful country; zero birds. We spotted seven White-tailed Deer and our prize wildlife view: GRAY FOX (Silver Fox) with its long bushy tail highlighted with its black streak running the length of it. It crossed the road; we stopped. Its legs were very reddish. It came out again, looked our way and returned to the field. Really nice. Gave me sweet dreams.

Day #4 Sunday, February 26th
Today, we birded our way home taking the southern route to Rio Rico. After filling the gas tank, we stopped at the Guy Tobin deAnza Trailhead. Thanks to Chris Rohrer, I knew of this place but when we had visited in the fall, grass was so high there was no trail. Today, no problem.

I was definitely here with purpose; Ruddy Ground Doves had been reported from this location and I wanted to see them. Would we find them??

We started out birding slowly along the trail and the fields. Spotting a lump that looked like a Great Horned Owl, I called Glenda's attention to it.  The lump WAS the owl, although even with the photo below, it's hard to distinguish.

Great Horned Owl

BLACK PHOEBE, SAY'S PHOEBE, and a pair of VERMILION FLYCATCHERS were sallying forth, then back to their perches.

Vermilion Flycatcher
Another birder showed up -- Jim, a local. He hadn't seen the recent report of the Ruddy Ground-Doves being seen near the "refrigerator" but he knew where that piece of trash was located. So we birded with him until we reached it. As we approached the area, we accidentally flushed two RUDDY GROUND-DOVES from the field. They flew only a short distance to the next field but, try as we did, we could not relocate them. We had seen them briefly and it was not a new bird for any of us. -- Year Bird for me.

Jim went on out toward the Santa Cruz River; we birded the stream ponds right where we were.  Glenda took all of the photos below.


We also flushed a dozen EASTERN (LILIAN'S) MEADOWLARKS from the field as we returned to the parking area.

Next stop was Santa Gertrudis Lane along the access/service road running beside I-19 North. In my short time of birding, this place has produced some excellent birds. Not realizing we would be coming home this way, I hadn't really looked for recent sightings but I know the birds well enough to sort them out.

Although the DeAnza Trail also leads south from Santa Gertrudis Lane, when we checked it out, we neither saw nor heard a single bird in 15 minutes of walking (11 a.m.).  But we had gained a companion - a self-appointed dog leader. It had come out from a long driveway. When I commanded it to "sit", it did. When I walked away, she followed us anyway and romped back and forth across the trail into some new leafy plants that appeared to make her a bit high! She would leap up and pounce down for no good reason other than sheer joy, then tear past us one way or the other on the trail.

Frisky young dog (Labradoodle?) appointed itself our leader.  It returned home as we returned to its long lane.

Back on Santa Gertrudis Lane we started picking up some good birds. (Maybe the dog's name was "Lucky")

HUTTON'S VIREO  [Photo: Glenda Jones]

Last, but far from least, I spotted two LAWRENCE'S GOLDFINCH -- male and female. The photo below is of the male. Not terribly far from the fence where we stood, they moved quickly through the weeds making it hard to get a clear shot ... without a weed blocking an eye or beak!

They gave us ample time for photos but were moving constantly within the weeds.

Driving farther north, then, on Route 19, we stopped for a quick look at Amado Water Treatment Ponds where we counted eight different species, including two EARED GREBES, but nothing else exceptional.

At Green Valley, we checked out Madera Canyon's Santa Rita Lodge and Kubo B&B bird feeding stations.  We saw only one hummingbird in our half-hour visit - the BROAD-BILLED HUMMINGBIRD - but enjoyed the usual species found there including this MEXICAN JAY, pictured below.

Our best sighting there was an ARIZONA WOODPECKER, but the WILD TURKEY behavior stole the show for me. All males, they began chasing and pecking one another, bumping chests in what began to look like a wrestling match. This went on for five minutes so I eventually took a video but don't know how (yet) to post it.  Below is a photo of two turkeys neck wrestling.

Never a full take down, but these two birds ran around interlocked like this trying very hard to do so. 

Up at Kubo B&B feeders, we spotted a female HEPATIC TANAGER that Glenda captured with her camera quite well.

Hepatic Tanager-female   [Photo: Glenda Jones]

We took a drive up Proctor Road as far as camp site #8 before turning around.  As we did so, a flock of a dozen or more WESTERN BLUEBIRDS flew into a mesquite for our enjoyment.

From start to finish, this birding adventure never failed to intrigue, surprise and delight us.

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