Just returned from a ~2,000 mile road trip that took us from the Salton Sea in California to Sedona, Arizona and up to Page, Arizona to visit the infamous Upper Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend.
We started off at the Sea searching again for the Bean Goose in vain. I did get some more nice photos of Sandhill Cranes, Snow Geese and Ross’s Geese as their numbers continue to increase exponentially each day as more and more of them are coming in to winter in the fields.
We also found numerous (1st cycle) Glaucous-winged Gulls around the sea. Didn’t find any Lesser Black-backed Gulls so I’d say the GWGU was probably the most interesting Gull in the area.
We left and continued our way toward Sedona in the early afternoon and arrived just before dusk. The following morning we woke up at 3AM to make the 200 mile trek north to Page, Arizona to photograph the world renowned Horseshoe Bend. This canyon was formed by the Colorado River and marks the start of The Grand Canyon. When we arrived it was just over 30F and starting to snow. I was hoping the skies would part just slightly to allow for a nice sunrise shot but it stayed overcast all morning.
We headed back into town (Page, Arizona) to warm up and have some breakfast while we waited for our 10AM tour of Upper Antelope Canyon. Since Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon all reside on the Navajo Reservation, they require that you make reservations to visit this sacred land with a guide. The Navajo name for Upper Antelope Canyon is Tsé bighánílíní, which means “the place where water runs through rocks.” Lower Antelope Canyon is called, Hazdistazí. Antelope Canyon was formed by erosion of Navajo Sandstone, primarily due to flash flooding and secondarily due to other sub-aerial processes. Rainwater, especially during monsoon season, runs into the extensive basin above the slot canyon sections, picking up speed and sand as it rushes into the narrow passageways. Over time the passageways are eroded away, making the corridors deeper and smoothing hard edges in such a way as to form characteristic ‘flowing’ shapes in the rock.
Although this wasn’t the best time to photograph the canyon – summertime is the best when the sun reaches it’s peak and a “ray of light” can be photographed as it shines through the fissures above – it was still a beautiful and remarkable place. It’s no surprise that this was a place of spiritual enlightenment to the Navajo.
On the way back to Sedona we stopped at Wupatki National Monument to try and find some Abert’s Squirrels. We didn’t find any but a playful Steller’s Jay came to visit.
A scenic drive around the Lake Mary and Mormon Loop, just southeast of Flagstaff, yielded a flock of over 75 Pinyon Jays!
We spent Thanksgiving Day with Sara’s family in Sedona – they own a condo unit there – and did some sightseeing in the area. Temperatures dipped into the low 30’s while we were there. It lightly snowed but didn’t stick on the ground for long. On our drive home we took an alternate route down the I-8 through Gila Bend and stopped in Yuma County along the way to find a juvenile Streak-backed Oriole that Paul Lehman had discovered the day before.
It had found it’s way up from Sonora, Mexico to just about the only yard in the entire Yuma County that had lush trees and vegetation. We waited over two hours before the Oriole finally presented itself to feed- most likely due to the high winds.
While we were waiting I was able to get smashing photos of Crissal and Curve-billed Thrasher that were actively foraging on the ground. The car works as such a great blind!
We stopped at the Salton Sea one more time on the way home and missed the Bean Goose once again! I’m one for three now…I am just thankful I was able to obtain good photos and documentation the day after it was discovered, earlier this month.
Again, I was able to get some MORE photos of Snow and Ross’ Geese – along with Sandhill Cranes – as if I didn’t have enough already! The afternoon sunset was beautiful though and the cranes against the yellow sky of the setting sky turned out nicely.
A very cooperative male Belted Kingfisher allowed for close approach and some nice photos. I was hoping it would fly over and land on a more “natural” setting – like a tree branch? But it seemed to prefer the telephone line!
That’s all for now. We are off to Portland, Oregon on Friday!
Woke up around 9:30AM that morning…couldn’t bring myself to waking up much earlier than that since we didn’t get to bed until about 3AM the night before due to the long drive from California Gulch to Madera Canyon. I quickly packed up my gear and headed down the road to Proctor Road before it got any later…or hotter. I met up with a couple of other people who informed me there was a Black-throated Sparrow nest within one of the Cholla Cacti along the trail.
Since I didn’t see either of the parents around, I peeked in the nest and was delighted to find 3 recently hatched chicks and an egg still not hatched. I snuck some video of the nest with my iPhone careful not to disturb the surroundings…especially considering the fact I’d have a hand full of pokers if I got too close! Although you can see one of the chicks jump up with it’s mouth open toward the end of the video as it must have heard me thinking I was it’s mother returning with food.
I decided to head up the trail a bit more and check the nest on the way back. There were lots of Hepatic Tanagers, Blue Grosbeaks, Indigo and Varied Buntings all along the creek. Never found the Black-capped Gnatcatchers that have been hanging out there.
On the way out I was happy to see the female Black-throated Sparrow was on the nest and just a few feet away the male perched on a branch holding a grub for one of the chicks.
I didn’t have much more time that afternoon since I had to get back into Tucson to catch my flight back home. I made a quick stop at the Madera Kubo lodge and got some photos of the Hooded Oriole nest above the road. The juveniles were very close to fledging and as you can see from the second photo, the young Hooded Oriole almost flew out of the nest!
I’ve been to SE Arizona over 30 times so far and it never grows dull. I had a great time despite getting over 50 chigger bites and 15+ mosquito bites but it was quite worth it. I’m already planning my next visit.
Click here to see full GPS track logs of my SE Arizona trip!
After an interesting night at Motel 6 in Nogales, AZ we got off to an early start heading west along Ruby Rd. toward Sycamore Canyon and California Gulch.
As soon as we pulled into the Sycamore Canyon trailhead parking lot we heard a Thick-billed Kingbird calling from the top of one of the trees. We found it within a few moments as an Acorn Woodpecker was trying to chase it away from it’s perch.
Bell’s Vireos were calling everywhere around us and I finally got some decent shots of them! An Eastern Bluebird pair also made a nest out of an abandoned hole in one of the Sycamore trees just above the parking lot. The male and female were actively catching insects and taking them back to their nest.
We pretty much could have just stayed in the parking lot all day without getting bored with as much activity going on all around us. But we decided we better start hiking up the canyon before the mid-day heat became any more unbearable. We took care not to brush up against all of the Poison Ivy growing all along the creek.
Not even 75 yards down the trail, my friend yelled at me to not take another step and quickly grabbed my arm. As soon as she did, I heard the all to familiar sound of a Rattlesnake just a few feet away. I’m not sure how I didn’t hear it but I’m truly grateful for my friend’s quick reaction time in stopping me! I breathed a sigh of relief and realized this was a great opportunity to take video of the Rattlesnake!
Although the creek was relatively dry within the first half-mile that quickly changed farther down the Canyon. Pockets of water provided a home for the native fish, Sonoran Mud Turtles, Leopard Frogs and many different species of Dragonflies and Butterflies.
Playing with Leopard Frogs
Since there wasn’t much bird activity I took the opportunity to photograph our other winged friends that seemed to be begging for our attention.
One of the larger ponds held lots of native fish that I’m still trying to identify. While I was watching the fish swim about I took notice to a Sonoran Mud Turtle along the edge of the pond.
Sonoran Mud Turtle
Nick caught a Black-necked Garter Snake a little way down the trail and brought it back for all of us to look at and photograph. Not much later he came back with a gravid female Lesser Earless Lizard!
Black-necked Garter Snake
Lesser Earless Lizard
After a quick little break of playing with dragonflies and reptiles we hiked up the Canyon a bit more where we heard a Northern Pygmy-owl calling. It didn’t take very long for me to find him as he had lots of Bewick’s Wrens mobbing him certainly not appreciating him being so close to their nests. We all got spectacular views and I took one of my favorite photos from the weekend.
It was a beautiful day to be in Sycamore Canyon. Not a drop of rain and reasonable temperatures despite it being the middle of summer.
Since it was the middle of the day, we took a quick break back at the parking lot to eat lunch and I even fell asleep in my chair while I was waiting for the Eastern Bluebirds to return to their nest! It was close to 2PM before we decided to pack up and head over to California Gulch.
We took the long way around through Warsaw Canyon and Clayton Canyon. We were treated to a few Montezuma Quail with a juvenile along the way. While we were photographing and enjoying the scenery a US Customs and Border Protection helicopter circled around us for a few minutes. Clearly they were running all the license plates of our vehicles and to make sure we weren’t hustling drugs or illegal immigrants across the border. It was the first time I’ve ever seen a helicopter in that area let alone one that took such keen interest to what we were doing.
Sonoran Barrel Cactus
We drove past the southern entrance to California Gulch and I immediately noticed two individuals walking rapidly into the Gulch. I tried to grab my camera to get a photo and so I could get a closer look but they quickly disappeared around the mountain… There were no vehicles in sight and we never did see the two people again. Most likely they were Mexican immigrants trying to get into the U.S. but we’ll never know for sure.
We continued on our way to the north parking lot where everyone typically enters the Gulch. Just as we were pulling into the parking lot we spotted a male Lesser Earless Lizard sunbathing on one of the rocks.
Lesser Earless Lizard
Due to the steep mountains surrounding the Gulch, the sun was just going down as we hiked to the bottom so it did not provide the lighting conditions I had hoped for. Five-striped Sparrows were singing all around us and it didn’t take long to spot one up on the hillside.
Also in the area were many Varied Bunting families of males, females and juveniles. We also had a Yellow-billed Cuckoo on the way back to the cars. I took a couple of photos at very distant range but nothing noteworthy enough to post here. We then headed about .2 down the road to the Oro Blanco Mine where the infamous Buff-collared Nightjar returns every summer. We met up with Melody Kehl and her tour group and thankfully we did as it provided many more eyes and ears to hopefully locate the Nightjar. With just a little bit of remaining light in the sky someone shouted out they heard the Nightjar. We all rushed over just quick enough to see it fly off into the wash. We tracked it down for a bit and got a couple of fleeting glimpses of it flying away as we followed it’s call. Unfortunately there were zero photo ops so I came back without any photos. 🙁
Feeling a bit defeated we headed back into town. About 40 miles outside of Nogales, along Ruby Road, we saw a HUGE Black-tailed Rattlesnake just spread across the middle of the road. At first I thought it had been run over but as soon as we all jumped out of the car it started moving off the road perfectly fine. I didn’t get any photos since my camera was already packed away so I grabbed my iPhone to take video.
Started off the morning on the Ft. Huachuca Army base located near Sierra Vista, AZ. On the way in we stopped alongside the road to get photos of Botteri’s and Cassin’s Sparrows. As usual, the Botteri’s were much more cooperative – at times they came so close I thought they might fly into one of the cars! The Cassin’s proved to be a bit more difficult. We could hear and see them skylark’ing inthe distance but they refused to come within 50 yards of us.
We continued up the mountain into Sawmill Canyon where we were immediately greeted with calling Elegant Trogons although we were never able to find them! Buff-breasted Flycatchers were in good numbers – calling and flycatching up and down the trails.
We also caught a Grace’s Warbler pair a little ways down the trail just before it started raining pretty heavily.
We took shelter under some pine trees and only had to wait about 15 minutes before the rain finally subsided. We hurried back to our cars before it started raining again. On the way out a bolt of lightning shot out of the sky directly above us leading to the loudest crack of thunder I’ve ever heard. Thankfully it didn’t hit any of us!
We continued on our way to Patagonia, AZ to look for the Sinaloa Wren. We spent an hour looking to no avail before it started pouring rain again. We decided to head into town and relax at the coffee shop while we waited for the storm cell to pass through. Unfortunately it wasted about an hour of precious daylight. As soon as the rain stopped we headed back to the Sinaloa Wren spot and searched until dusk. It wasn’t entirely boring as there were many Yellow-breasted Chats playfully calling to
each other above us.
Other than that all we managed to get was lots of Chigger bites!! I did take a photo of the Sinaloa Wren’s nest so I didn’t feel like I left completely empty handed.
Sinaloa Wren Nest