Thursday, June 5, 2014

SE Arizona Day 2: Huachuca, Garden, and Miller Canyons

After a very late night of driving, and another early morning, we were a little sluggish to start out day two. But we were still on the road at a decent time, and our first destination was not far away. We were headed to Huachuca Canyon, where the Sinaloa Wren had been hanging out for quite a while. We waited it out for a couple hours, and in the process got some nice birding in.

Here's the Brown-crested Flycatcher, with the proportionately large bill and, even from this poor angle, you can still tell that it's tail is rufous and not brownish like the rest of its back.

Brown-crested Flycatcher
Huachuca Canyon, Cochise Co, AZ
May 20, 2014

There were several active Plumbeous Vireos around too, one of which is carrying nesting material here, doing some final patch work at this point I suppose.


Plumbeous Vireo
Huachuca Canyon, Cochise Co, AZ
May 20, 2014

We kept hearing a piercing, high pitched call coming from nearby, but we couldn't quite place it. At first. Then, an immature Gray Hawk appeared above (pictured in flight below), and the scream grew more consistent. I tracked it down and found our second Gray Hawk nest in as many days! And, after a couple minutes of just seeing the tail sticking out one end of nest, the female got up on the edge and gave us some great views before flying off. It was another awesome encounter, with still plenty to come!



Gray Hawk
Huachuca Canyon, Cochise Co, AZ
May 20, 2014

One of the common but fun birds on the trip was the Bridled Titmouse. We had these at many different locations and had plenty of opportunities to take in their distinctive markings and cool facial patterns.

Bridled Titmouse
Huachuca Canyon, Cochise Co, AZ
May 20, 2014

And of course, Acorn Woodpeckers were plentiful again. I could never get enough of these clown like birds.

Acorn Woodpecker
Huachuca Canyon, Cochise Co, AZ
May 20, 2014

Back in the parking area, a Rufous-crowned Sparrow and Dusky-capped Flycatcher were giving our Jeep Liberty a full inspection. Like us, they didn't seem too impressed. Unlike us, they got to fly away and leave it there.

Rufous-crowned Sparrow
Huachuca Canyon, Cochise Co, AZ
May 20, 2014


Dusky-capped Flycatcher
Huachuca Canyon, Cochise Co, AZ
May 20, 2014

This was all enjoyable stuff, but we were missing our rarity. We didn't even hear a peep out of it. And with all the vegetation leafed out now, it made this secretive species that much more difficult to see, whereas it was easier to find in the winter. It was midmorning at this point, and the temps were already starting to rise. We had missed two targeted rarities in a 12 hour span, which threw us off a little bit. After talking it through for a couple minutes, we agreed that we ultimately came to Arizona for its specialty species, and any obscure rarities (like the Rufous-capped Warbler, which we did already have) were just icing on the cake. So we left the wren stakeout spot. It helps now knowing that it hasn't been reported since two days before we got there, so it's possible that the thing had actually already left when we there.

So, we kept moving, this time to the nearby Garden Canyon, where we hoped to rebuild some momentum. There were quite a few Bushtits in the lowest picnic area, always a fun sight.

Bushtit
Garden Canyon, Cochise Co, AZ
May 20, 2014

Further up the canyon, we were greeted by more Painted Redstart, which along with Black-throated Grays were the most common woodland warblers of the trip. So cool. This one was particularly friendly and came right in to a little pishing.


Painted Redstart
Garden Canyon, Cochise Co, AZ
May 20, 2014

We kept stopping every few hundred yards on the long drive up the canyon. At one of those stops, some movement caught my eye, I looked up and exclaimed "Sulphur-bellied! Sulphur-bellied!" I have to admit that a year ago, I did not even know what a Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher was. I read it in some post about birding in Arizona and couldn't place it. When I looked it up in Sibley, I was blown away by this bizarre, exotic looking bird and it immediately rose to the top 5 of my most wanted birds list. It inspired in me a sort of wonder before I had even seen it. So, my first few moments of seeing one and the ensuing time we spent with what turned out to be a pair of them, added up to be one of the biggest thrills of the trip for me. I had built up a lot of internal hype for this bird, and it blew my expectations out of the water! Just look at this thing. You can actually see both birds in the top photo. Here's my recording of them calling.




Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher
Garden Canyon, Cochise Co, AZ
May 20, 2014

This was the first of an awesome string of lifers that followed as we continued up the road. At the next stop, we had a Greater Pewee fly in to a tree above us. We watched it for a few moments and took in its enormous size (relative to the wood-pewees) and proportionately large bill, then it took off before I could get a picture. Still a sweet lifer though.

We kept driving and driving and driving, occasionally coming upon rough patches, but nothing insurmountable. Finally we came to what we were looking for - an extensive stand of conifers that was relatively out of the wind. This is where my dad had some of the specialties we were looking for back in 1972 when he was on a similar trip with his dad. Somehow he remember the exact spot and when I pulled up he was confident we were in the right place. He was right.

We got out and poked around for a little while, and I came across this Plumbeous Vireo on a nest.

Plumbeous Vireo
Garden Canyon, Cochise Co, AZ
May 20, 2014

I wandered back up to the car, and spotted something at the end of a branch about 30 feet up in a tree. I got the binoculars on it to see that it was a Buff-breasted Flycatcher! This was our main target at this spot, and it was the only chance we would have at them all trip most likely, so the pressure was on. What a cool little Empidonax! This made for 3 lifer flycatchers in a short span of road.

Buff-breasted Flycatcher
Garden Canyon, Cochise Co, AZ
May 20, 2014

I was still getting used to the calls at this point, so an unfamiliar song from the hillside intrigued me. I tracked it down to find a bird we had already seen on the trip, and a species that, as it turns out, has an incredibly wide array of songs in its repertoire. This look almost has an anthropomorphic feel to it.

Yellow-eyed Junco
Garden Canyon, Cochise Co, AZ
May 20, 2014

We had missed a couple things, but had nailed our main targets and were quite content to start the journey back down, but right as I was getting in the car my dad picked up on a couple new things singing - the first a warbler, the second a tanager. We looked around for a little while, and they turned out to be two lifers for me, Grace's Warbler and Hepatic Tanager!


Grace's Warbler
Garden Canyon, Cochise Co, AZ
May 20, 2014

Hepatic Tanager
Garden Canyon, Cochise Co, AZ
May 20, 2014

And with that wonderful flurry of birds, we felt calibrated and back on track. As we headed back down the canyon, I spotted our only snake of the trip slithering slowly across the road. It was a brilliant Sonoran Kingsnake, upwards of 4' in length, and unlike anything I've ever seen before. I immediately called to mind the riddle from my earliest elementary school days: "Red meets black, you're OK Jack. Red meets yellow, you're a dead fellow." At least I was pretty sure how it went. Still, I chose to take pics rather than try to pick it up.


Sonoran Kingsnake
Garden Canyon, Cochise Co, AZ
May 20, 2014

Next, our canyon hopping continued and we made our way up Miller Canyon to Beatty's Guest Ranch, home to a couple specialties.


One of the specialties is the White-eared Hummingbird, and this is actually the only reliable place to see this species in the ABA area. The first one we saw turned out to be easy and quite a bit larger than I anticipated.

Not a White-eared Hummingbird
Miller Canyon, Cochise Co, AZ
May 20, 2014

We made our way up to the feeding station and were shortly joined by a few other birders. The feeders were filled with Black-chinned and Broad-billed Hummingbirds, followed by Magnificent and Broad-tails.

 Broad-tailed Hummingbird
Miller Canyon, Cochise Co, AZ
May 20, 2014

Broad-billed and Broad-tailed Hummingbird
Miller Canyon, Cochise Co, AZ
May 20, 2014

Black-chinned Hummingbird
Miller Canyon, Cochise Co, AZ
May 20, 2014

Broad-billed Hummingbird
Miller Canyon, Cochise Co, AZ
May 20, 2014

After just a few quick minutes of watching, the White-eared snuck in to the closest feeder. Later it was joined by a female (second pic below has both together). I kept watching it fly back to the same perch after drinking from the feeders, so I repositioned myself to get a good angle at the perch, where I was able to snag some more natural looking photos.






White-eared Hummingbird
Miller Canyon, Cochise Co, AZ
May 20, 2014

While enjoying the hummingbird spectacle, I asked the group of birders if anyone knew anything about the Spotted Owl. Unfortunately, the question was misunderstood, and a guy in the group had actually done Spotted Owl surveys for a long while; he was unaware of the nesting pair up the canyon, and I had just unwittingly given him a platform to tell Spotted Owl stories to his heart's content. A few minutes later, the owner of the place came up to refill the feeders. I asked him if he knew specifics on the location of the owls. This was the right guy to ask. He kindly walked us right up the trail and pointed us towards a large cavity in a sycamore. Inside we could see the face of a baby Spotted Owl! From a little bit further down, we could see the female sitting on the edge of the nest. After looking back at my photos, I realized that the bottom third of the female is actually visible in the first photo below, too.

This was a bird that we knew would be a possibility, but we didn't know specifics on its location so we weren't counting on it. We were so grateful to have the bird essentially handed to us, and to get such outstanding views of a nest no less! This was particularly significant for me as it was my 550th bird for my ABA list. There was something sweet about having an endangered species serve as this milestone.



Spotted Owl
Miller Canyon, Cochise Co, AZ
May 20, 2014

We also had another Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher up the trail, along with several more Painted Redstarts.

Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher
Miller Canyon, Cochise Co, AZ
May 20, 2014

And I believe this is another Yarrow's Spiny Lizard, with the cool blue tail:


Yarrow's Spiny Lizard
Miller Canyon, Cochise Co, AZ
May 20, 2014

From there we made the trek to Cave Creek Ranch at the base of the Chiricahua Mountains, where we would be staying the next three nights. I cannot possibly say enough good things about Cave Creek Ranch, so I'll let these Elf Owls that I recorded the first night do it for me. We arrived when it was dark, and figured that our birding was over for the day. But we got out of the care to find at least 4 calling just in the parking area alone! It only took a few minutes of walking around with a light to find this little guy.

Elf Owl
Cave Creek Ranch, Cochise Co, AZ
May 20, 2014

And that's how our second day ended. Our species total was in the 70s this day, and I had added 7 more lifers. And we now had a couple days of birding the Chiricahuas ahead of us!