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SE Arizona – Day 1 – Ramsey, Miller, Ash Canyons

Thanks to the Ramsey Canyon parking lot not opening until 8AM I was able to sleep in a bit later than normal – having taken the last flight into Tucson from LAX I was a bit exhausted. It was a gorgeous day to be in SE Arizona, despite the warm temperatures and high humidity. Fortunately we didn’t encounter any heavy downpours that would cause us to unexpectedly modify the day’s agenda.

Ramsey Canyon
Ramsey Canyon

Despite us getting a relatively late start on the morning, the canyon was still quite active with Acorn Woodpeckers, Hutton’s Vireos and Sulphur-bellied Flycatchers all attending their respective nests.

Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher
Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher

There were many young Hermit Thrushes along with Black-headed Grosbeaks and Hepatic Tanagers consuming the over abundant supply of Wilcox Barberries located throughout the Canyon.

Hermit Thrush
Hermit Thrush

I managed to get a cute photo of an Acorn Woodpecker parent feeding a young fledgling in a nest hole. I even caught the inquisitive youngster trying to sneak a peek at what was going outside his humble abode.

Acorn Woodpecker
Acorn Woodpecker

Acorn Woodpecker
Acorn Woodpecker (chick)

Assuming most knew the purpose of starting off in Ramsey Canyon that day…for those do not, it was all for a single bird – a Brown-backed Solitaire, native to Mexico. There has only been one other record in the U.S. – over 10 years prior and was not accepted as a “wild” bird. There is still a lot of discussion surrounding whether the current Solitaire in Ramsey Canyon arrived on it’s own free will or if it was “assisted”. The Brown-backed Solitaire is widely valued as a popular cage bird due to it’s incredibly beautiful song so there is much desire to illegally transport them to the U.S. from Mexico.

Have a listen to it’s amazing call.

Around 10:45AM the 40 or so of us in the Canyon were greeted with that exact call. It sounded as if the bird was just 30 or 40 feet off the trail but as much we tried we could not locate the bird. We patiently listened to the call every few minutes and hoped it would eventually show itself. And show itself it did. Just after 11:00AM it flew into one of the Wilcox Barberry bushes to feed on the berries. It sat there feeding for a couple minutes before flying up into the canyon.

Brown-backed Solitaire
Brown-backed Solitaire

After we all had great looks at the Solitaire we decided to head over to the Beatty Guest Ranch located within Miller Canyon. This was where the Solitaire was originally found before moving into Ramsey Canyon just a few miles away.

Miller Canyon
Miller Canyon

We were immediately greeted by Tom Beatty, Jr. who showed us a Sonoran Whipsnake that was feeding along the edge of their pond.

Sonoran Whipsnake
Sonoran Whipsnake

After enjoying a few minutes of observing the Whipsnake we hiked up to the hummingbird observation area where several Berylline and White-eared Hummingbirds have been treating guests to views just a few feet away!

Berylline Hummingbird
Berylline Hummingbird

White-eared Hummingbird
White-eared Hummingbird

Although not as infrequent as the Berylline or White-eared Hummingbird, several Broad-tailed’s fed amongst the hundreds of other hummers. It’s always a treat to hear the buzzing sound the Broad-tailed Hummingbird’s wings make.

Broad-tailed Hummingbird
Broad-tailed Hummingbird

I even captured some video with my iPhone to show how close to all the hummingbirds we were. I was literally holding my phone just a foot away from the feeder!

It was now getting late in the day so had just enough time to stop off at the Ash Canyon B&B just down the road. Beautiful female and male Lucifer Hummingbirds had been coming to the feeders there regularly.

Ash Canyon
Ash Canyon

Since the Lucifer Hummingbird didn’t show itself immediately I took some photos of a Costa’s Hummingbird and a Pipevine Swallowtail happily feeding on the plentiful supply of nectar, natural and artificial.

Costa's Hummingbird
Costa’s Hummingbird

Pipevine Swallowtail
Pipevine Swallowtail

I didn’t have to wait long before the male Lucifer Hummingbird finally showed itself. Definitely one of my favorite Hummingbirds!

Lucifer Hummingbird
Lucifer Hummingbird

 

Posted by on August 6, 2009 in Photography Adventures

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Arizona, Part II

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!

Madera Canyon
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
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
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.

Javelina
Javelina

Vermilion Flycatcher
Vermilion Flycatcher – 1st year male

Montezuma Quail
Montezuma Quail

Broad-billed Hummingbird
Broad-billed Hummingbird

Painted Redstart
Painted Redstart

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
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
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
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.

Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet
Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet

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
Gray Hawk – Pair chasing

Gray Hawk
Gray Hawk

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
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
Black-capped Gnatcatcher – Male w/nesting material

Black-capped Gnatcatcher
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.

Say's Phoebe
Say’s Phoebe

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.

Madera Canyon
Immigration/Smuggling Sign – Santa Rita Mountains beyond

Madera Canyon
Proctor Road – Santa Ritas beyond

Madera Canyon
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

 

Posted by on March 30, 2009 in Photography Adventures

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Arizona and New Mexico

Flying into Tucson tonight and driving to Deming, NM. Objective is to find the Aplomado Falcon here:

map

After that heading to Slaughter Ranch east of Douglas, AZ for the Blue Mockingbird.

map

Will be along the Mexican border the entire time, hope things are safe down there still!! Going to be an exhausting weekend – flying home early Monday morning so will post updates to my website then.

 

Posted by on March 13, 2009 in Photography Adventures

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Back from Arizona

I know some of you have been following where I’ve been in REAL-TIME on my Photo/GPS upload page. To see actual locations and images I uploaded from the road while in Arizona check these links out:

Sat, Aug. 23
Sun, Aug. 24

As you can see I was very close to the border of Mexico while at California Gulch and again when I was near Palominas, AZ. Fortunately I did not run into any illegal “smuggling” of immigrants or, worse yet, drugs. The only real scare I had was when I was almost caught in a thunder storm whilst at California Gulch (by myself). With it still being monsoon season, it can be clear blue skies one second and a thundering downpour the next. That said, you have to be extra cautious especially when you’re at the bottom of a narrow canyon over a mile away from your vehicle. This time I made it back to the car – narrowly averting a potentially harrowing experience.

Here’s a photo I took right as I got back to my car of a giant Cumulonimbus forming:

Monsoon coming in

Highlight birds from California Gulch include Five-striped Sparrow, Nashville Warbler and an entire covey of Montezuma Quail along Ruby Road! I didn’t get the best Five-striped Sparrow photos that I had hoped for but I’ll be back next summer to try for better ones.

Five-striped Sparrow
Five-striped Sparrow

Nashville Warbler
Nashville Warbler

Canyon Wren
Canyon Wren

Montezuma Quail
Montezuma Quail

Montezuma Quail (juvenile)
Montezuma Quail (juvenile)

I spent both Saturday and Sunday mornings photographing Cassin’s and Botteri’s Sparrows. I actually had much better luck with Botteri’s than Cassin’s. On several different occassions I had a Botteri’s Sparrow fly within 10′ of my vehicle.

Botteri's Sparrow
Botteri’s Sparrow

Cassin's Sparrow
Cassin’s Sparrow

Black-throated Sparrow
Black-throated Sparrow

Lark Sparrow
Lark Sparrow

A slow sunday. I got to Upper Carr Canyon around 11AM where I photographed a Greater Pewee. I was hoping for Buff-breasted Flycatcher as well but no luck. On the Comfort Springs Trail I had a beautiful GRACE’S WARBLER in full view….but the camera wouldn’t focus. So you can file that under the “one that got away”. /sadface…

Greater Pewee
Greater Pewee

I also made a quick stop at Mary Jo Ballator’s Ash Canyon B&B to get some better Hummer shots. Lots of Rufous Hummingbirds migrating through now. As a side note: I initially went up Miller Canyon to photograph the Hummers at the Beatty Guest Ranch. Tom, Sr. was there and told me that he no longer allowed photographers with flash setups like I have (Fresnel Lens, etc.). I was quite shocked by this. He went on to say that most photographers don’t know what they’re doing and hurt the birds. I reminded him that I have photographed the hummers right next to him in the past with the same setup – not to mention the fact I already have photos of all the hummers so I wouldn’t be holding the trigger down! He wouldn’t give-in so I said I understood and left.

The following shots were taking at Mary Jo Ballator’s. In the hour I was there, I only took 15 photos.

Rufous Hummingbird
Rufous Hummingbird

Rufous Hummingbird
Rufous Hummingbird

Since the Huachuca Mountains weren’t being very productive I decided to drive out to Willcox in search of Baird’s Sandpiper at Lake Cochise. Success!! A couple hundred Wilson’s Phalaropes adorned the lake as well. Quite a sight to see all of them turning in circles as they feed. I took some side roads on the way back to Tucson in hopes of raptors (ie. Zone-tailed, Common Black-Hawk). Only saw Red-tailed’s and a pair of Harris’ Hawks.

Baird's Sandpiper
Baird’s Sandpiper

Wilson's Phalarope
Wilson’s Phalarope

Harris's Hawk
Harris’s Hawk

 

Posted by on August 25, 2008 in Photography Adventures

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Monsoons, Buteos and Illegals

Amidst some serious Cumulonimbus Calvus formations we bounced around into Tucson International. Baggage came out quickly, got our rental and hit the road on our three hour drive to Portal, AZ. Arrived just before midnight, tried playing the Elf Owl call to no avail and gave up after 10 minutes to get some much needed sleep.

Woke up the next morning at 5AM and began heading up the Chiricahua’s. First stop was Herb Martyr Campground where we hiked up to Ash Spring. Had fleeting glimpses of Virginia’s Warbler, Dusky-capped Flycatcher and various other birds but no solid photos. Back to the car and continued on toward Rustler and Barfoot Campgrounds. Pretty dead morning. About the only thing we encountered along the way were a pair of Scott’s Orioles, lots of Dark-eyed Juncos and TWO Mexican Chickadee’s:

Mexican Chickadee
Mexican Chickadee

Also scoured the seasonal firefighter village nearby but only found 8-10 Cordilleran Flycatcher’s still feeding their young that had fledged some weeks prior.

Cordilleran Flycatcher
Cordilleran Flycatcher

That was just about all we saw in the Chiricahua’s that day, save for a Mule Deer. Nary a Red-faced Warbler, Grace’s Warbler, Olive Warbler, Greater Pewee, Buff-breasted Flycatcher, etc etc etc. Seeing some ominous cloud formations approaching we made the wise decision and headed down the mountain toward Willcox. No more than 15 miles down the road did the downpour start – a much needed shower for our muddy 4×4 Hyundai Tucson rental!!

Cruised into Willcox just as the rains had subsided and stopped at the Willcox Playa to find a solitary Wilson’s Phalarope on it’s southerly journey, ultimately toward the southern hemispherical Patagonia of South America.

Wilson's Phalarope
Wilson’s Phalarope

Since there wasn’t much daylight left I figured we could make it to Madera Canyon just in time for some nice late afternoon rays (pending it wasn’t pouring rain!). Fortunately the horizon was clear and the sun was finally breaking free from the clouds that had engulfed the skies of SE Arizona over the past few weeks.

The next step was to find a good photo subject! Hiked along Proctor Road trying to kick up a Varied Bunting or two. Heard them calling in the distance but too shy to come out in the open. Their distant relative, the Blue Grosbeak, did show itself however:

Blue Grosbeak
Blue Grosbeak

That was about all we had time for that afternoon. We headed back into Green Valley to have dinner at our usual Mexican place and then back up the Canyon to Madera Kubo. Was hoping to get in some owling or nightjar hunting but was just too tired!

Sunday begins at 5AM to a Hepatic Tanager calling outside our window. Why did I even bother setting the alarm? Since it was much too dark in the Canyon I decided to check out Proctor Road. Was pretty overcast and it didn’t look very promising that we’d dodge the rains this time. Lots of Varied Buntings calling so I used some guerilla tactics by sneaking into some brush and luring them toward me with my iPod!

Varied Bunting
Varied Bunting

Just beyond the Varied Bunting I managed to dig up a Black-throated Sparrow.

Black-throated Sparrow
Black-throated Sparrow

I spoke with another couple from Miami, Florida who informed me he had just photographed an Elegant Trogon pair tending their nest along Vault Mine Trail the previous morning. I decided to chance the weather and hiked 3 miles up Vault Mine and finally located the nest. Unfortunately there was not a Trogon to be seen (or heard)! Went up the trail a bit more and was able to lure a Dusky-capped Flycatcher reasonably close:

Dusky-capped Flycatcher
Dusky-capped Flycatcher

Not much else that day. It rained off and on up the trail but nothing serious. We decided we better head back to the car and decide what to do from there. By the time we go to the car you could definitely tell it was about to downpour. Lightning and thunder intervals were getting closer and the temperature was dropping considerably.

I decided to head toward Patagonia to try our luck there. Half-way between Green Valley and Nogales I phoned a fellow birder who had been in Madera Canyon that morning. He informed me that he was pulled over on the side of the road, just below Madera Canyon, waiting for the torrential downpour to subside! US-2, Monsoons-0.

Did a quick loop around Keno Springs Golf Course in search of Gray Hawk – no luck. Continued into Patagonia and out Harshaw Creek Rd. toward the San Rafael grasslands. Again no luck, and by the time we got out to the prairie it started to rain a bit. Turned around toward Patagonia and rained quite a bit on the way back. Fortunately all the washes we had crossed over were still relatively passable.

On to the Paton’s House. Just as we pulled up it really started pouring, and I mean pouring. Sara quickly informed me that we better head back to town since we didn’t want to be trapped on this side of Sonoita Creek. Crossed back into town just fine and waited the storm out. It started to slow down a bit after 20 or 25 minutes so we headed back to the Paton’s to see if the Sonoita Creek was still passable. Much to our surprise, the water level had barely risen. We easily crossed over in our SUV. Parked our car, threw on our rain gear and headed to their backyard and under the protection of the tent they had appropriately erected in the middle of the yard. Didn’t matter much anyway as the rain had slowed down to just a sprinkle the rest of time there.

Within seconds the Violet-crowned Hummingbird flew in. Not much of a chance for photos as it was pretty dark. Gila Woodpecker, White-winged Doves, Bronzed Cowbirds, Scaled Quail, etc. all flew in to the feeders. I didn’t get any better photos than I already had before so I won’t be posting anything here. Decided to head out and try one last time for the Gray Hawk on our way back to Tucson.

Unfortunately, Sonoita Creek was not the same level anymore… It was probably a 6′ or 7′ deep roaring river – despite it not raining for at least an hour… We sat there for about 5 minutes when a local pulled up and told us to follow her. We took some backroads and managed to cross a section of the Creek that was bone-dry! We thanked her and continued on our way.

Barreling down Patagonia Hwy, I noticed a Buteo shaped bird perched on a utility pole. I slammed on the brakes, flipped around and slowly crept up to find a Gray Hawk!

Gray Hawk
Gray Hawk


It obviously didn’t care for our presence and quickly flew off north. Next road that turned north was River Rd. so we decided to try our luck and try to refind her. Just about 4 or 5 mi. down the road and at the point of giving up to turn around I spotted a raptor sitting on a telephone pole up ahead. Sure enough, it was another Gray Hawk. This time I was able to get a few more shots off as she flew from pole to pole.

Gray Hawk
Gray Hawk

Gray Hawk
Gray Hawk

Gray Hawk
Gray Hawk chased by Kingbird

This just about concludes our SE Arizona trip. Not as productive as I had hoped but we were fortunate enough to dodge most of the Monsoonal rains. My biggest target was probably the Gray Hawk and I was finally able to get some semi-decent shots. Some of the big targets I missed: Olive Warbler, Greater Pewee, Tropical Kingbird, Grace’s Warbler, Virginia’s Warbler and better shots of Red-faced Warbler, Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher and Elegant Trogon.

On a concluding note, I always dread the Border Patrol stop on the way between Nogales to Tucson as I’m always waiting for them to say “Please pull your car off to the side so we can go through all your camera equipment in the search of contraband and accidentally drop and break a few of your lenses.” This time the stop was closed and lined up on the side of the road were 6 or 7 handcuffed Mexicans waiting to be deported back to Mexico. In a way, all of us didn’t get everything we were looking for in SE Arizona. I guess it gives us all a reason to try it again next time!

 

Posted by on July 21, 2008 in Photography Adventures

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