I hadn’t birded southeast Arizona since 2004…15 years ago…and I needed to get back. Between 1990 and 2004 I made 4 birding/photo trips here and picked up most of my target southeast Arizona specialists plus rarities such as White-eared Hummingbird, Plain-capped Starthroat, Rose-throated Becard, Flame-colored Tanager, and Black-capped Gnatcatcher. But in those pre-digital-photography days I took few photos and my memories of specific bird sightings had long since faded. So nearly every bird I saw was a special treat…almost like getting lifers all over again.

My first two nights were in Portal, Arizona near the New Mexico border at the foot of the Chiricahua Mountains. You can experience multiple biomes in the vicinity of Portal, all within a short drive. This post is about birding in the Cave Creek and Herb Martyr Canyon areas.

The flight from Duluth to Phoenix took us right over Great Sand Dunes National Monument in southern Colorado. We visited here as a family in 2016. The kids loved running and leaping from the sand dune peaks. Very cool to see from the air!
Portal, Arizona is one of those tiny but picturesque little towns with a quaint general store and surrounded by spectacular scenery. It is in the same league as Polebridge, Montana, Talkeetna, Alaska and Finland, Minnesota. I spent two nights here, but could have spent much more time in this special part of the world.
The Elegant Trogon is really a bird of Mexico that has the far north end of its North American range in the U.S. South Fork of Cave Creek is one of the best places to find them in the U.S. This male just fed the youngsters in this nest cavity in a Sycamore tree. I was told that they nested in this same cavity last year.
Elegant Trogon male coming out of the nest cavity.
I had a disturbing Black Bear encounter in Cave Creek Canyon. This BIG Black Bear saw me, then ran about 30 yards before stopping and hissing and snapping its jaws at me. Maybe it was a female with cubs?? But I never saw any little ones. This is very aggressive behavior and of all the bears I’ve encountered in Minnesota, I’ve never had one do this.
What do you think of when you picture southeast Arizona? Though there is much Chihuahuan desert, there are also these “Islands in the Sky” mountain ranges. The Chiricahua Mountains near Portal is one such Sky Island.
Birdled Titmouse is only found in southeast Arizona and southwest New Mexico in the U.S.
Sycamores have beautiful patterned bark.
I’m sure the locals are pretty tired of Gambel’s Quail, but for me they are always a treat to see and photograph. This male was calling from a fencepost early in the morning.
Mom Gambel’s Quail with a brood of 8 adorable chicks.
The Painted Redstart is a stunning warbler of
Hooded Oriole at Dave Jasper’s feeders in Portal
Hooded Oriole at Dave Jasper’s feeders in Portal
Acorn Woodpeckers are gregarious and very vocal. It is not hard finding this distinctive woodpecker.
Acorn Woodpecker
Portal, Arizona is a town of 50 people with one general store and a cafe. But I am always out birding when it is meal time…Actually I bird from dawn to dusk and beyond, so no time for a sit down meal. Therefore I ate nothing but ham or bologna sandwiches for 3 days. 8 sandwiches total. Also, there is no gas station in Portal and I nearly ran out of gas trying to find a station. I ended up in Animas, New Mexico…the closest spot to Portal to get gas.
I called in this Whiskered Screech-Owl and he sang in my flashlight beam. I managed to get a photo, but not a great photo. This was on Herb Martyr Canyon Road, where I also heard Western Screech-Owl and I got two lifers! Heard Mexican Whip-poor-wills (a barrier song than our whip-poor-wills) and a heard Flammulated Owl…my last North American owl!

**All photos taken with Panasonic GH5 and Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, Canon 70-200mm f4 lens, Rokinon 10mm lens, and iPhone.

Advertisements