Posts tagged ‘Chiricahua Mountains’

Sky Islands: Huge Pines, Mexican Chickadees, Spotted Owls, Juncos with yellow eyes —Southeast Arizona June 2019 Part 4

“Mexican” Spotted Owl high in the Huachuca Mountains of southeast Arizona.

June 6-12, 2019

We don’t really think of high elevation mountains right near the Mexican border in Arizona, but these “Sky Islands” rise to over 8,000 feet in elevation. And they host a completely different set of flora and fauna.

Here is a sampling of critters and flowers from two such Sky Islands—Rustler Park in the Chiricahua Mountains (outside of Portal, AZ) and Hunter Canyon in the Heuchuca Mountains near Sierra Vista, AZ.

Western Tiger Swallowtail pair on the road to Rustler Park [Coronado National Forest]
Yellow Columbine (Aquilegia chrysantha) grows along the road to Rustler Park at this stream crossing. [Coronado National Forest]
View from the road to Rustler Park outside of Portal, Arizona in the Chiricahua Mountains. [Coronado National Forest]
Ctenucha venosa – Veined Ctenucha Moth on Lupine in Rustler Park
[Coronado National Forest]
The Lupines were in full-bloom at Rustler Park.
[Coronado National Forest]
10mm lens view of Lupines and pines.
[Coronado National Forest]
Lupine
[Coronado National Forest]
Hedgehog Cactus blooming (Echinocereus species) at Rustler Park.
[Coronado National Forest]

Even though I was at 8,000 feet elevation, there was still cactus in full bloom.

The striking undersides of the Arizona Sister butterfly
[Coronado National Forest]
Not just any chickadee!…The Mexican Chickadee

The Mexican Chickadee that is only found in a few places in the U.S.
[Coronado National Forest]

Rustler Park at 8,000 feet in the Chiricahua Mountains [Coronado National Forest]

Rustler Park at 8,000 feet in the Chiricahua Mountains. It was formerly a better site for birding until a massive wildfire burned the area several years ago.

Yellow-eyed Junco
[Coronado National Forest]

Juncos with yellow eyes? These close-relatives of our Dark-eyed Junco are restricted to the very southeast corner of Arizona and extreme southwest New Mexico. They are only found at high elevations. There were several pairs here in Rustler Park (8,000 feet) and they were finding caterpillars under the needle duff layer.

HUNTER CANYON near Sierra Vista is our second stop on the blog post about the higher elevations of southeast Arizona.

The view of the Sierra Vista valley from the top of Hunter Canyon. A Rufous-capped Warbler had been reported here sporadically over the past few weeks. But we had no luck in finding it.

I got an early start to make the hike up to Hunter Canyon to look for a reported Rufous-capped Warbler. I hiked up an easy trail that gave me good looks at Arizona Woodpecker and Spotted Towhee, but it wasn’t getting anywhere near any large pines…plus folks had said that the hike to the Rufous-capped Warblers was a beast. This must be the wrong trail…And, yes, I was on the wrong trail.

I finally made it back to my car and found the correct parking area. Now this hike was straight up the mountain! Must be the right trail. As I reached the pines, I ran into three birders from Maryland that I’d birded with near Portal. They had had no luck in finding the warbler, but a while later they discovered a roosting “Mexican” Spotted Owl! It was only about 20 feet up in a maple along the creek. He was resting but allowed us a few minutes of photos and gawking. A real find and a beauty. I’d seen one in 1994 but this was much closer.

“Mexican” Spotted Owl is morphologically a bit different than the Spotted Owl of the northwest US and adjacent Canada.
His/her spotted plumage made for excellent camouflage in the sun-dappled canyon woods.
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Trogons, Owl Bonanza & Black Bears? Cave Creek —Southeast Arizona June 2019 Part 1

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.