Just returned from another awesome trip to Southeastern Arizona. Although I was just there two weeks ago how could I resist going back? I didn’t get to do everything I wanted to the last time so it called for another trip!
Ocotillo Bloom – Road to Madera Canyon [GPS]
Day 1 – Patagonia, AZ
Started the day at 6AM along the Patagonia Nature Preserve – searching and listening for the Sinaloa Wren (a species that is normally found in Sinaloa, Mexico – hundreds of miles south of the U.S.). It turned out to be a no-show – we gave up around 10 AM and decided to head into the San Rafael Grasslands SE of Patagonia by approx. 20 miles.
San Rafael Grasslands [GPS]
Wasn’t much happening out there in the middle of the day. Temperatures were around 80F with a slight breeze to the north. A few Turkey Vultures circled above. We tried walking a few of the fields looking for Baird’s Sparrow and Longspurs which we never found. Lots of Horned Lark, Eastern Meadowlark and even spooked a Burrowing Owl – the first time I’ve seen one in the San Rafael grasslands. On the way back to Patagonia we spooked a Red-tailed Hawk sitting on the side of the road.
Red-tailed Hawk – Piece of brush got caught on wings in take-off
Got back into Patagonia around 2PM and grabbed some lunch. I decided to try for the Sinaloa Wren again – unfortunately it never showed and I ended up with around 15 mosquito bites. I didn’t finish the day entirely empty-handed. A Javelina decided to run past me as I was looking for the Wren, a 1st year male Vermilion Flycatcher perched on a branch, Montezuma Quails fed along the hillside, a male Broad-billed Hummingbird lighted on a branch above my head and a Painted Redstart showed what he thought of me.
Vermilion Flycatcher – 1st year male
The sun was just setting as I left Patagonia. Had an hour drive up to Madera Canyon where I was going to turn in for the night. I was fortunate enough to get the last Casita at the Santa Rita Lodge. The moon was just a sliver so as I pulled into the parking lot it was practically pitch dark but we could hear Elf Owls calling in the distance. After following the sounds we found two nest cavities in a power pole near one of the cabins.
Elf Owl – Mother on nest
Day 2 – Florida / Madera / Montosa Canyon
Got up around 6AM to hike up Florida Canyon for the Rufous-capped Warblers. Whilst driving out of Madera Canyon and over to Florida Canyon a group of 10 male Wild Turkeys were vying for the attention of 20+ female Turkeys. They put on quite a show in the middle of the road not allowing us to pass!
Wild Turkey – Male displaying
On the way up Florida Canyon we crossed paths with another pair of birders who informed us they had just seen the Rufous-capped Warbler pairs gathering nesting materials not 50 yards further down the trail. We thanked them for the info and hurried up the trail. Spent 20-30 min searching in the spot they had described. Nothing. We felt we better hike a bit further up the trail since they were apparently moving upstream. Moments later I heard the definite call of a Rufous-capped up the hill. We searched for 5 minutes before we found him in a patch of Prickly Pear Cactus 75 yards up the hill. We observed them flying in and out of the cactus – quite possibly the location of their nest! Since it was much too far to get any decent photos I exclaimed I was not leaving the canyon until I got photographs. Fortunately we only had to wait another 45 min before they came further down the stream to drink water. They were no farther than 15′ away from us at times – almost too close to even focus on them.
Rufous-capped Warbler [GPS]
After getting our fill of the Rufous-capped Warblers we trekked back down the canyon hoping to encounter the pair of Black-capped Gnatcatchers that were being seen within 200 yards of the parking lot. We thought we heard them at one point but weren’t able to confirm with a visual. While we stopped a Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet – a very small flycatcher – landed on an Ocotillo bush a few yards away.
Got back to the car around noon and decided to grab lunch in Tubac and watch migrating raptors over the Santa Cruz River bridge crossing. As soon as we opened our car door at the bridge we heard the distinctive calls of Gray Hawks in the cottonwoods. They soon flew out of the trees and circled over us a few times. They were clearly a pair and most likely searching for a nesting location.
Gray Hawk – Pair chasing
We didn’t see many other raptors save for a lone Turkey Vulture riding the thermals above us. Since Montosa Canyon was relatively close we figured we’d give it a shot and look for the Black-capped Gnatcatcher pair that had nested their last year.
Montosa Canyon [GPS]
We hadn’t heard any recent reports so we weren’t sure they were even there still. Within moments of arriving we heard them calling to each other. The male was just starting to get his black cap and I even got a shot of him carrying nesting material – so it would appear they are nesting once again in Montosa Canyon!
Black-capped Gnatcatcher – Male w/nesting material
Black-capped Gnatcatcher – Female
Daylight was quickly fading and I had just enough time to drive back up Madera Canyon to get some late afternoon photographs. The wind was starting to blow pretty hard – 20-30 mph gusts to the north. I was just about to give up when I spotted a Say’s Phoebe nest in a building structure. The mother Phoebe clearly didn’t appreciate my presence so I snapped a couple of quick shots and let her get back to her nest. You’ll notice the patch of feathers missing on her belly. This is called a “brood patch” and indicates that she is currently incubating eggs.
There wasn’t much “wildlife” to photograph other than a hiker here and there. I took the opportunity to take a few scenic shots with my 10-22mm.
Immigration/Smuggling Sign – Santa Rita Mountains beyond
Proctor Road – Santa Ritas beyond
Madera Canyon – Ocotillo Bloom
I shall conclude this blog entry with the route of my journey this past weekend (plotted in Google Earth). I’m already planning my next trip to SE Arizona. Possibly next month! Anyone care to join me? 🙂
GPS Track – Tucson, AZ -> Patagonia, AZ