“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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