Posts tagged ‘southeast Arizona’

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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Patagonia-Sonoita Creek —Southeast Arizona June 2019 Part 3

Patagonia is a very small town that looms large in the legacy of American birding. It is a must-bird site for all visiting birdwatchers. I hit two of the most famous spots; Paton Center for Hummingbirds (formerly the home of Wally and Marion Paton and their plethora of hummingbird feeders) and the Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Sanctuary.

The handsome and well named Gray Hawk is a specialty of the Patagonia area. They nest along the Sonoita Creek. I almost got too good of a look at this guy as he left off the edge of the dirt road as I rounded a corner. Here he is being harassed by a Kingbird. Unfortunately I didn’t quite get the focus on this shot.
Cassin’s Kingbird at The Nature Conservancy’s Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Sanctuary
My lucky day! …but this Desert Tortoise (Gopherus agassizii) had to endure being manhandled by me for a few minutes. He/she was huge and hefty! (Let’s call it a “she.”) The carapace was almost two iPhone 7+ long! And it probably weighed about 10 pounds (total guess…but she was heavy!).
I love tortoises. The Sonoran Desert Tortoise can reach 15 inches in carapace length. This gal measured at 10.5 to 11 inches long so I imagine she is quite old. They eat all kinds of vegetation including cacti. I’ve also caught and “played” with the much smaller Texas Tortoise in, you guessed it, Texas. I helped this gal across the dirt road and off into the brush.
I was quietly walking a deserted and narrow dirt road west of Patagonia when I heard rustling in the brush. I stayed very still and watched this Javelina forage for about 10 minutes. As far as I know it never saw me.
Wally and Marion Paton’s home in Patagonia, Arizona has been a Mecca for birders and hummingbird enthusiasts for decades. I was here in 1994 and our group sat quietly under the canopy in their backyard waiting for the rare Violet-crowned Hummingbird to show. It did and I got my lifer Violet-crowned.
Wally and Marion passed away a few years ago and the Tucson Audubon Society stepped in to save this treasured and beloved location. Donations from birders and birding organizations helped buy the house and acreage. It is now loaded with gardens and paths and ponds…and of course, hummingbird feeders…and the Violet-crowns still come to feed.
This is the renovated hummingbird watching area at the Paton’s…now called the “Paton Center for Hummingbirds”
And the star of the show arrived! Several Violet-crowned Hummers fed at the Paton Center’s feeders and perched obligingly for us photographers.
Canyon Towhees in the underbrush.
Wildflower gardens and paths at the Paton Center for Hummingbirds in Patagonia, Arizona.
Common Checkered-Skipper at the wildflower gardens at the Paton Center for Hummingbirds in Patagonia, Arizona.
White Prickly Poppy (Argemone albiflora) is a large and beautiful wildflower in southeast Arizona.
“The oil of the white prickly poppy was used as a fine lubricant during WWII. It was found that the oil content of the seed is 25.8% which is similar to the oil content found in soybeans.”
—Quote from wikipedia.com
Vermilion Flycatcher along the dirt road to Sonoita Creek.
Any riparian area in the desert southwest USA is going to be an oasis for birds. The Nature Conservancy’s Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Sanctuary is no exception. Unfortunately I arrived just an hour before closing so was not able to explore much.
Sparky and huge Cottonwood along Sonoita Creek.
Phainopepla at Sonoita Creek Sanctuary.
Broad-billed Hummer at the Sonoita Creek Sanctuary.

Chihuahuan Desert Bonanza: Barren? No way! —Southeast Arizona June 2019 Part 2

June 6-8 near Portal, Arizona.

During my brief stay in Portal, I birded multiple biomes….from mountain pine forest (at elevation 8,400 feet!) to low elevation Chihuahuan Desert scrub. The desert was most alien to this Minnesota boy, and maybe that was its strong appeal. It was also easier to see and photograph the critters than in the wooded habitats.

Foothills Road is very near Portal and a great place to explore at dawn and dusk. Midday is quiet due to the heat. On this road I had great looks at Scott’s Oriole, Cactus Wren, Gambel’s Quail, Scaled Quail, Verdin, Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, Lesser Nighthawk (dusk), Desert Cottontail and Black-tailed Jackrabbit.

Stateline Road is another great birding road. New Mexico will be on the east and Arizona on the west side of the road. Stop at Willow Tank and bird this water feature as well. I saw Loggerhead Shrike, Ash-throated Flycatcher, Curve-billed Thrasher, Greater Roadrunner, Chihuahuan Raven and possibly a Kit Fox (just a long-tailed blur running across the road).

Chihuahuan Desert vistas look bleak and lifeless…but they are anything but. Birds, mammals, insects and reptiles thrive in this desert.
Yellow Bird of Paradise shrub (Caesalpinia gilliesii) has a stunning flower with 3-4 inch long red stamens.
Yellow Bird of Paradise shrub (Caesalpinia gilliesii) is a native of South America but naturalized in Arizona where it can be found growing wild along roads and in other disturbed areas. It is also grown in gardens.
Verdin is a tiny, yellow-faced bird of desert scrub.
Scott’s Oriole in Ocotillo. We don’t think of orioles in the desert, but the Scott’s is right at home in arid Chihuahuan scrub desert.
The male Scott’s Oriole is one of our only yellow orioles. No orange for this guy!
The Scaled Quail is encountered far less often than its Gambel’s cousin. It is also found at lower elevations in the shrub scrub.
I was extremely excited to find this Round-tailed Horned Lizard along the Foothills Road after dark. These little guys are only about 3 inches long.
It was a lifer and is my third species of Horned Lizard that I’ve seen (joining Texas Horned Lizard and Northern Horned Lizard on my life list).
Ocotillo at sunset
Ocotillo at sunset
My first non-feeder Lucifer Hummingbird! I have seen Lucifers at hummingbird feeders several times before but this was the only one I’ve seen out in “the wild.” This is a female (note her white chin and yellow throat).
Greater Roadrunner on the hunt for lizards at dawn.
For some reason it seems like I’m always shooting into the sun when I take Roadrunner photos. But it gives the birds a neat rim light (also see photo below).
Greater Roadrunner getting ready to make good on its name and run on a road.
Along Foothills Road at dawn I found this male Gambel’s Quail greeting the morning by singing his heart out from the top of an Agave.
Unlike many birds who live only in one habitat, the Gambel’s Quail can be found from Chihuahuan Desert scrub up to higher elevations in wooded forests.
Gambel’s Quail calling
Foothills Road near Portal, Arizona passes through prime Chihuahuan Desert and is great birding. Best to bird it at dawn and dusk, and park the car and walk.
Prickly Pear cactus was in full bloom. This cactus was over 7 feet tall! A related species grows in southwest Minnesota but rarely even reaches 18 inches tall.
Yuccas are a characteristic plant of Chihuahuan Desert scrub. This is in New Mexico just north-northeast of Portal, Arizona.
Black-tailed Jackrabbits are most active in early morning and towards dusk (when this photo was taken).
Can you find the Black-tailed Jackrabbit?
This little bundle of energy is the Black-tailed Gnatchatcher. It is a tiny sprite of a bird that lives in open desert scrub.
At 103 degrees, everybody needs to drink! Greater Roadrunner at Willow Tank.
Don’t overlook the Chiricahua Desert Museum just N of Rodeo, New Mexico and east of Portal. It is an eclectic reptile-themed museum with world class snake exhibits and an outdoor plant and reptile exhibit.
The exhibits of the live Rattlesnakes (many species!) are impressive. They were made by a professional Hollywood set designer for Michael Jackson (yes, that Michael Jackson). But Michael changed his mind and the museum benefited.
The outdoor exhibit at the Chiricahua Desert Museum. Lizards run free here….if you can find them. Native plants are labeled as well.

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.