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
Got into Tucson, AZ late Friday night. Picked up friend Moez Ali and headed to Hermanas, NM in search of the “controversial” Aplomado Falcon. Why controversial? For one it’s a (once thought) extirpated species of the southern United States. Per Wikipedia.com, “Until the 1950s it was found in the extreme southwestern United States“. That is, until about 5 or 6 years ago…sporadic reports came in of “possible” Aplomado sightings in the extreme Southwestern corner of New Mexico. Many of them went unvalidated with no photo documentation to back them up. Everything went quiet once again toward the summer of 2008 but once again reports starting trickling through again in the winter of ’08/’09. This time there were actual photos posted and descriptive posts with actual GPS coordinates. But not without controversy. You see, what was once thought to be “one” or even remotely possible “two” potential Aplomado Falcons in Southwestern New Mexico turned out to be two Nesting Pairs! To make matters worse, many of the sightings were on “private” ranch land. Here’s a snippet of an actual post from the compiler of the NM rare bird alerts:
I have a plea to make. There have been three reports here lately telling of the falcon in NM, which is considered endangered or very rare. Please DO NOT send reports to the listserve, please, please, especially with details on its location…
I followed the listserv threads with great intrigue for quite some time. Unfortunately, this past weekend was the first “free” weekend I had available to search out the elusive Aplomado. So back to my story….
We arrived in Hermanas, NM around 2:30 AM early Saturday morning. Since it was much too late to find lodging we decided to camp out in our car along the side of the road. We were awoken to Border Patrol knocking on the window of our car at 5:30AM asking our citizenship and to provide our drivers licenses. We willingly obliged and after 40 minutes of interrogation they left and by this time the sun was just 10 minutes from rising above the horizon.
We navigated the bumpy, dirt roads up to the corral where the Falcon had presented itself so many mornings and afternoons of the weeks prior. We waited in our car for a few hours with no signs of the Falcon. Around mid-day we decided we should probably drive up and down along the dirt roads to see if we could spot the Falcon flying about. No luck. We ran into a couple of birders from Texas who were also looking for the Falcon. We decided to split up and keep in touch via two-way radios. However we quickly discovered the limited range of the radios. We bumped into each other throughout the day, each of us lacking any good news. Afternoon was quickly approaching so we camped out the rest of the evening at the original corral. At sunset we decided to turn in the towel and head back into Deming.
Although not my photo, here’s what the Aplomado Falcon looks like.
We headed back to the corral at sunrise on Sunday and spent a few hours waiting…hoping…but alas the Falcon never appeared. Since we were on a relatively short time schedule we decided to give in to defeat and head over to Slaughter Ranch in Southeastern Arizona for the Blue Mockingbird that was appearing like clockwork every 1-2 hours. On the way to the border we had 2-3 Golden Eagles. One of them flushed at close range.
We arrived at Slaughter Ranch at 11:15AM and just as we were walking up the Mockingbird was making a brief appearance. Although I wasn’t able to get any photos the Mockingbird appeared every 45-60 minutes giving us a chance at photos. I didn’t get photos I was happy with until just as we were about to leave at 2pm.
We were originally planning on heading to Madera Canyon/Florida Canyon for the Rufous-capped Warblers but unfortunately we were quickly running out of daylight. Decided to go with our backup plan and check for the Short-tailed Hawk that was frequenting a NE Tucson neighborhood. We arrived there just before sunset but the Hawk never showed up… I did get some nice consolatory shots of a Sharp-shinned though!!
GPS track of our journey along southern Arizona and New Mexico plotted in Google Earth (the yellow line at the bottom is the Mexican border):