Saturday, June 7, 2014

SE Arizona Day 4: Portal and Cave Creek Canyon Again

Our schedule afforded us an extra day to bird essentially the same area that we had the day before. Now that we had our bearings, we set out with hopes of adding to our trip list. There was very little pressure though due to the abounding success of the previous day. We began at Portal-Paradise Road to look for a Crissal Thrasher. We were excited to hear the call of one at our first stop, and then frustrated when we tracked it down only to find that it was a Northern Mockingbird that had learned the Crissal Thrasher quite well. This was one of the only birds we missed on the trip. We did get really nice looks at a Scott's Oriole here though.

Scott's Oriole
Portal-Paradise Road, Cochise Co, AZ
May 22, 2014

Other birds along the road included White-throated Swifts, Western Kingbirds, Lucy's Warbler, Black-throated Sparrows, Rock, Bewick's and Cactus Wren, and Blue Grosbeak. This was the first time I've actually tried to photograph White-throated Swifts.


White-throated Swifts
Portal-Paradise Road, Cochise Co, AZ
May 22, 2014

Western Kingbird
Portal-Paradise Road, Cochise Co, AZ
May 22, 2014

We then returned to Cave Creek Canyon, stopping first at Idlewild Campground again. We wandered around the nature trail, not finding anything out of the ordinary at first. We turned around to head back to the car, and as I walked along the trail two birds flushed from mere inches away; I saw that white face of the male and called out "Montezuma Quail!" Thankfully my dad was right behind me so we were both able to see the birds about as well as you can hope to. This was one of those species I was completely content to not see on this trip, just because they are so secretive and quite difficult to find, as evidenced by the fact that we didn't flush them just minutes prior when we walked past that same section of trail. Needless to say, this was a huge added bonus on top of an already amazing trip.

Next we headed to South Fork, where I was about to come upon one of the best finds of my birding career. At one stop, a decent amount of activity drew our interest, so we got out and looked around for a little while. All the usual suspects that we had here the day before were still present, but something stood out to me. In the midst of the woodland chorus that I had grown accustomed to over the past few days, I heard a squeaky, high pitched call that seemed out of place - I knew I hadn't heard it all week. My interest piqued, I had to investigate. Thankfully the bird was singing consistently, so it wasn't too difficult to track down. About 30 yards off the road, I found the source of the song, a little bird flitting up in tree. I took a look at it and couldn't believe my eyes. I did a double take and yelled to my dad "Bay-breasted Warbler!" "Bay-breasted?" he replied. He hurried over and we got to enjoy some great views of this nice alternate plumaged male together for a few minutes before it disappeared back into the woods.



Bay-breasted Warbler
South Fork, Cochise Co, AZ
May 22, 2014

I emailed our John about it and he said there have only been 3 previous records of a Bay-breasted Warbler in the Chiricahuas, the most recent of which came in 1998, over 15 years ago! Sounds like it's likely the 10th record for SE Arizona. And of those, sadly only 1 other has been reported to eBird, as the range map below indicates. I was pretty stoked, and very grateful that I picked up on that out of place call.



Further up the road, we got the Elegant Trogons in the same place as the previous day, and this Arizona Woodpecker was feeding its young.

Arizona Woodpecker
South Fork, Cochise Co, AZ
May 22, 2014

After South Fork, we returned to the Portal Store, which has WiFi, so that we could get the word out about the bird. It looks like a couple people had it two days later, but I haven't heard any other reports. What a crazy bird in a random place!

From there it was back up the mountain where we found it quite difficult to improve upon the previous day - not a big surprise. We did get some better looks at the Mexican Chickadees though. You can see this one with food, ready to hop in to the nest and feed some babies.

Mexican Chickadee
East Turkey Creek, Cochise Co, AZ
May 22, 2014

Back down at the Southwestern Research Station, we again had more of the same.

Say's Phoebe
Southwestern Research Station, Cochise Co, AZ
May 22, 2014

Summer Tanager
Southwestern Research Station, Cochise Co, AZ
May 22, 2014

But as we headed back down from there, something quite out of the ordinary happened. I pulled around the corner and my dad and I simultaneously exclaimed "Woah!" Two round lumps down the road in front of us caught our attention - they could only be one thing, more Montezuma Quail! We watched these guys for a while, then moved closer, only to find there was a group of at least 5! I was thrilled that I was actually able to photograph this species relatively well, and figured that these would likely be the best looks I would ever have at them. Plus we had now seen 7 individuals in a single day, I was beside myself.

Montezuma Quail
Southwestern Research Station, Cochise Co, AZ
May 22, 2014

In keeping with our pattern from the previous day, we spent the afternoon back at Cave Creek Ranch. As we returned there, I only had 1 lifer on the day, which was actually 1 more than I had anticipated, so I was quite thrilled. Yet, that number was about to double with another unexpected, hard to get species. While we sat on the porch and watched the feeders, a dark bird soaring above caught my eye. I focused my binoculars on it to see the structure of a Turkey Vulture, but with a striped tail and yellow legs and facial skin - Zone-tailed Hawk! My dad was sitting right next to me and got on it, and we observed it together for a few seconds before it disappeared behind a ridge. We moved around and waited for it to reappear, but it never did. Another quick but sure encounter with a great bird, and yet another lifer! Montezuma Quail and Zone-tailed Hawk, two birds I figured I would add someday on returning trips to Arizona or Texas, and I had just seen both in half a day's time. Unreal.

The birds were showing well at the feeders again too, of course. I do not apologize for the gratuitous number of Blue-throated Hummingbird photos. I doubt you were complaining anyway.

Canyon Towhee
Cave Creek Ranch, Cochise Co, AZ
May 22, 2014

I found these guys to be more washed out than the vibrant ones we have back in Washington. Still a great bird to look at regardless.

Lazuli Bunting
Cave Creek Ranch, Cochise Co, AZ
May 22, 2014

Ladder-backed Woodpecker
Cave Creek Ranch, Cochise Co, AZ
May 22, 2014

Cactus Wren
Cave Creek Ranch, Cochise Co, AZ
May 22, 2014

Scott's Oriole
Cave Creek Ranch, Cochise Co, AZ
May 22, 2014





Blue-throated Hummingbird
Cave Creek Ranch, Cochise Co, AZ
May 22, 2014

Broad-billed Hummingbird
Cave Creek Ranch, Cochise Co, AZ
May 22, 2014

And these guys were more yellowish, whereas ours in Washington are a more saturated orange, similar to the Baltimore.

Bullock's Oriole
Cave Creek Ranch, Cochise Co, AZ
May 22, 2014

A surprising little rain shower drew out a little color from this prickly plant.

Flowering Cactus
Cave Creek Ranch, Cochise Co, AZ
May 22, 2014

We returned to Bob Rodriguez's yard, where we missed Crissal Thrasher again, but did see the Abert's Towhee much better than the previous day.

Abert's Towhee
Rodriguez Yard, Cochise Co, AZ
May 22, 2014

Lizard sp.
Rodriguez Yard, Cochise Co, AZ
May 22, 2014

Back "in town" at the Portal Store, my dad's familiarity with Inca Doves from Texas paid off as he first heard then found this bird. I most likely would have missed this one on my own. I was surprised at just how tiny it was.



Inca Dove
Portal, Cochise Co, AZ
May 22, 2014

We stayed there and grabbed some dinner, where the Portal Store/Restaurant became for a moment a museum as well. I can't think of many spots in the states where a dinner in a public place can be interrupted from the other room (aka, "Store") by, "Hey, anyone want to see a Gila Monster?" followed by everyone abandoning there meals and racing to see what was up. Sure enough, I guy had just found one on the road, and before safely taking it back to its natural habitat, he brought it by. Such a cool looking lizard!


Just for reference, this is the famous Portal Store.


We had all the same night species that evening, though we did have a couple pretty memorable experiences. At Cave Creek Ranch, the Elf Owls put on a show for us. Our neighbors had a patio where they had been watching a nest the past few evenings. The location of this nest was particularly interesting, because it was just a couple feet below an Acorn Woodpecker hole. Here's a little tidbit I learned on this trip that you may want to toss out at your next party: Acorn Woodpeckers vehemently abhor owls. This particular Acorn sat in its hole with its head poked out, waiting for the Elf Owl to come out. We could hear one bird calling in the hole, and spotted another calling just outside. When the adult inside came out, the Acorn dive bombed it, trying to take its head off, yet unsuccessfully. The woodpecker returned to its hole, figuring he had expressed himself clearly enough for the night. The owls went quiet for a while, waiting for the woodpecker to go to sleep before they went about feeding their owlets, which we could here begging from inside the hole.

After that great start, we went back up the canyon where we able to have better luck with the Whiskered Screech-Owl, as we got to see it at close range on a couple occasions, just a few feet off the ground. I never got a pic of its face, but I still love the shot below. Here it is calling.

Whiskered Screech-Owl
Cochise Co, AZ
May 22, 2014

Lesser Nighthawks, Common Poorwills, and Mexican Whip-poor-wills were all present, too. When we returned to Cave Creek Ranch, we could hear so many Elf Owls (find more here and here) that we just had to track another one down. This one was right outside our door and was quite cooperative. While we watched it, I kept hearing another one nearby, which turned out to be a call coming from another nest hole - this one we found on our own! We watched the one outside catch a moth and take it to the one in the hole, which most likely went back to the youngsters.



Elf Owls
Cave Creek Ranch, Cochise Co, AZ
May 22, 2014

What an amazing way to bring our final night in the Chiricahuas to an end!