Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Blue Goose ~ Day 311

April 4, 2015 ~ Tucson, AZ to Albuquerque, NM

Cedar Waxwing near St. David - AZ was Saturday and time to start home. 

We left Tucson early and began driving east on I10. But we had all day so chose one more birding venue from the very helpful guide   (Finding Birds in Southeast Arizona) and decided on Holy Trinity Monastery in St. David's, Arizona.
Holy Trinity Monastery - St. David's - AZ
Is there a more serene zen-like birding venue? What a wonderful way to end the birding part of our trip, with nesting Phainopeplias, Bewick's Wrens, a better look at Lucy's Warbler, Abert's Towhee, Vermilions flying about...Mexican Jays.....a covey of Gambel's Quail....
Gambel's Quail - Holy Trinity Monastery
St. David's - AZ

Even driving on the small country road TO the monastery was birdy, as we spotted several sparrow species (including Lincoln's and Brewer's), a tree full of gorging Cedar Waxwings, a Common Yellowthroat, Yellow and Yellow-rumped Warblers, finches, woodpeckers.....and an Inca Dove.
Resident peacock at Holy Trinity, just hangin' out...

A small store on the grounds had books and local food items and things Catholics buy (excuse my ignorance of what they all were). The room also had the most delectable scent, which was lavender, and DHC bought the last candle right out from under me, so I've been looking for a lavender-scented candle ever since.  It was not at all cloying, just a wonderfully subtle scent. She also found a lovely little unique gourd, decorated by a local artist who apparently no longer does this work....or can't be found, they told us. 

And then she got some local honey and pecans at a roadside stand before we drove out of town. We were laughing at her latent "retail" proclivity which became apparent as the trip wound down.  So, I wasn't surprised when we had to stop at Hatch, NM (after passing through the two-building crossroads of Nutt down the road). Hatch is the "Chili Capital of the World" and she found just a few more things, including very hot chili food items for Jack, the hotter the better for this man! And a cool bright red chili pepper shaker as he loves to spice nearly anything he eats with ground hot chili. 

We then spent the rest of the afternoon driving to Albuquerque where we again stayed in the  welcoming and wonderful Hotel Andaluz, eating again from the tapas menu, and then repacked and organized all our stuff for the train. 

Blue Goose ~ Day 310

April 3, 2015 ~ Tucson, AZ

Sororan Desert - AZ
It was a Tucson Day with a Starbuck's stop on the way to the Arizona-Desert Sonora Museum west of the city. On the way, we noticed many birds in the desert but I assured DHC all these would also be at the Museum which is 85% outdoors.
Sonoran Desert west of Tucson - AZ

One minute from the main entrance, a Cactus Wren flew right by our faces and snuggled into her nest in a saguaro four feet away, nearly at eye level. And then we watched Hooded Orioles (lifer for DHC???) flying in grand swooping circles around the grounds, perching for ten seconds now and then but mostly allowing only tantalizing glimpses of orange and black against the blue sky and in between the lime-green new leaves and yellow blooms on huge acacias. Or they would dive into palm trees and disappear.
Sonoran Desert - AZ (these barrel cacti always lean to the south)

After that glorious beginning, we wandered through the hummingbird aviary, with its constant low buzzing / humming as the captive birds seemed to be desperate for freedom, flying round and round their relatively small enclosure. Neither of us were comfortable watching them though we did see a couple on nests which was entrancing. The museum has tortoises, javelina, a newborn bighorn sheep, coatis and raptor shows...although desert flora is show-cased with its prickly hot beauty utterly foreign to us midwesterners. Still, we both got museum malaise after two hours and headed for the gift shop. I cannot resist books and bought three; DHC bought a lovely basket made by Native Americans.  I did resist another pair of earring though....

We both agreed we could have / should have birded the pull-offs we passed on the way.

Our next stop was the western unit of the Sonoran National Park:


Its two districts are separated by the city's 1 million residents. The Tucson Mountain District (TMD) on the west, and the Rincon Mountain District (RMD) to the east, are approximately 30 miles (45-60 minutes) apart. While similar in terms of plants and animals, the intricate details make both areas praiseworthy. The TMD (west) boasts large stands of saguaro cactus creating a breathtaking saguaro forest, whereas the RMD (east) hosts a magnificent sky island, where you can find bears, cougars and the ever elusive coati (aka kudamundi).
We liked this venue; it was free with my Golden Age Pass and there were far fewer visitors.

Hummingbird on nest at Desert Museum Aviary - AZ
We hung out at the VC which stands alone in the desert. Behind and below is a currently dry wash with hills rising from that. We could stand on the outdoor second-level areas and watch birds below, or see Gila Woodpeckers on the saguaros. 

I spotted a small gnatcatcher, and DHC and I spent the 30 minutes watching it, sitting on the ground down below in shade, always aware of the snake factor, though it was probably not warm enough yet. Rattlesnake Warning signs were out though, reminding us in case we forgot....

The gnatcatchers turned out to be a pair of Black-tailed Gnatcatchers, another life bird for each of us. Again, Deborah concentrated on the song. They had a nest and both would fly off and return, fly off and return about every five minutes. We could almost see the nest in a modest little bush. Most birds are continually wary, looking around in all directions when perched and seldom flying directly to a nest. The gnatcatchers would return to the bush separately, often on the opposite side, and move closer in short flying bursts and then pop out of sight, but just barely, so we could pinpoint exactly where the nest was. The deal is, there is also a Black-capped Gnatcatcher, even more uncommon here but a possibility nonetheless, and an important field mark requires one see the underside of the tail, frustrating in a hyperactive bird. But we persisted, and before we left, DHC went back into the VC and asked their opinion. The resident biologist was not there, but the guy she talked with told her that we were seeing the Black-tailed Gs.

It was another memorable vignette, sitting among the cacti, in the shade, with only a few visitors coming and going, watching a pair of tiny, bright, cleanly marked black and white birds with long tails seriously going about their spring nesting duties.

While Tucson has many birding venues (urban parks, Sweetwater Wetlands and dry water courses like the Santa Cruz River or Tanque Verde), we decided to drive up Mt. Lemmon....which was probably the only thing we would do differently had we known. Locals (and visitors) bird all up and down the mountain as the habitat changes with the elevation. We didn't do that, however, and just concentrated on getting up and then down the 22-mile drive. There is a touristy town (Summerhaven) near the top. We could have gone a few miles even higher to a ski area but didn't realize this until we were halfway down. Deborah wasn't particularly delighted by the mountain road with switchbacks and occasional precipitous drop-offs, but it was a picnic for me compared to the road between Durango and Ouray, Colorado. Here, there were always guard rails or small retaining walls. She did tricks to keep her mind and stomach intact and we made it.

On Mt. Lemmon, with Tucson in the distance....
We did get out at a few turnoffs, but to bird this area would require hours with short (or long) hikes into the canyons. The temperature dropped 30 degrees, and this surely is a respite from the summer temperatures. It's only about 15 miles from downtown Tucson.

It is one of the most scenic drives in southeast Arizona. It provides access to a fascinating land of great vistas, outlandish rockscapes, cool mountain forests and deep canyons spilling out onto broad deserts. Because the road starts in the Lower Sonoran vegetative life zone and climbs to the high forests of the Canadian zone, it offers the biological equivalent of driving from the deserts of Mexico to the forests of Canada in a short stretch of 27 miles. Here you'll find plants and animals and geology that exhibit some of the most wide-ranging natural diversity to be found in any area of comparable size in the continental United States.

We did this in a couple of hours, but there was too much to properly experience and appreciate in so short a time. Still, it will be a memory....

As it was late afternoon, we found one more Olive Garden before checking into another $50 room, this time in a Sheraton. I've learned some of the nuances of using Priceline. More often than not, one does NOT get all that good a deal, in my experience. But, time of week, location, number of rooms / motels available, time of year, etc....taking all that into consideration, one can get lucky.

DHC in the Sonoran Desert near Tucson

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Blue Goose ~ Day 309

April 2, 2015 ~ Nogales,  AZ to Tucson, AZ

Yet one more gorgeous sunny cool Arizona morning under blue blue skies...

There was a Sinoloa Wren also present at Tubac; however, this was somewhat of an impulsive stop and we / I didn't get perfect directions so we never did see it. We were about half a mile north of it's preferred showing place. 

But, no matter, because we spent time meandering the trails near the Santa Cruz River. Most Arizona rivers are dry now although do run certain times of the year. There was some water here, however, and a bridge which I thought was the wren hangout, so that is where we stopped. One can always see the flood plain with massive logs strewn about, detritus and matted flora from high water. Today, though all was benign and easily walkable.

We saw Phainopeplas, a cryptically colored Vermilion flying back and forth, a pair of mating Gray Hawks and a Lucy's Warbler (life bird for both of us). Again, DHC persisted in following its song which is what good birders do. I usually ramble around just looking randomly for movement, hearing birds but not chasing their music; however, I am learning to do this...sort of. Lucy's is an unpretentious gray warbler, common out west and one of the trio of western "girl" warblers along with Virginia's and Grace's...(still need to see Grace's.)
Gray Hawks - Tubac - AZ

Gila Woodpeckers were loud overhead sounding very much like Red-bellied Woodpeckers.

Upon leaving Tubac, we went north to Madera Canyon, specifically, Santa Rita Lodge where we joined a dozen other birders on the patio overlooking the feeders and eventually saw a Band-tailed Pigeon (a life bird) for both of us. DHC got her first Red-naped Sapsucker also. Hummers were abundant (Rufous, Broad-billed, Magnificent...), as were Pine Siskins. The adjacent gift shop beckoned, small but with attractive unique items, and we each spent a little more money on Mexican pottery. The more I see of this art, the more I am taken by it.
Band-tailed Pigeon - Madera Canyon - AZ

I showed DHC the trailhead for Madera Canyon, a short distance up from the lodge, but passing through a major bridge-building / road-widening project that has been going on for months necessitating noisy heavy trucks lumbering up and down the road several times a day. The scene still looks like a violent gouging of the earth in this peaceful canyon...and is only a very short distance from where the road ends, so the question is? Why?

Earlier this spring, I had talked with one of the owners of the SR Lodge about jaguars in these mountains, and he told me what he has seen over the years. I can concentrate either on the visual of the earth-rape we saw or of jaguars moving mysteriously through these mountains. The finished road will surely allow certain drivers to drive too fast down the canyon.... Trogons live here also and Elf Owls, and some of their habitat is being destroyed without doubt. It was one of the most egregious desecrations of land I've seen on my trip.

Should we visit our Uncle and Aunt who live in Green Valley? He is our mother's only living sibling. Of course we should. We called from the post office where DHC mailed some of her stuff home to lighten her load, a smart move since she was accumulating more as she was in a mildly acquisitive phase.

Our visit was fine, sweet and short, and we mostly caught up on 30+ years of family. My aunt was as classy as ever. My uncle has always been lively and funny. We immediately asked how his kids were and he immediately replied, "Well, we have 18..." (Actually, they have five). He always made us laugh and still does. Their home overlooks the valley and the mountains to the east. We admired my aunt's paintings, her garden and their gigantic saguaro cactus which they had planted as a two-foot specimen years ago.

Just before we got on the Interstate north to Tucson, DHC realized she didn't have her glasses (plural...two pair, both of which she left at our uncle's home) which she retrieved, fortunately realizing this before we drove much farther.

Paying better attention to the venue, we arrived at a Hampton for the night, a Priceline deal that cost about $50 total. Which was nice....and we ate across the street in a Sheraton at a window on the courtyard. The doors to the outside were open; it was perfect relaxation, enhanced by a couple glasses of wine.
Blooming Ocotillo - near Green Valley, AZ

Monday, April 20, 2015

Blue Goose ~ Day 309

April 1, 2015 ~ Sierra Vista, AZ to Nogales, AZ

The night before, we had seen a Starbucks near our motel and headed there early the next morning, but it had disappeared. Weird, since we had both seen it; however, we never did find it. We asked and were told there were no "freestanding" Starbucks in Sierra Vista. Hmmm.....

But there were three in either a Safeway or Target. The line at the nearest was long, and we were on a mission, so left and headed for Huachuca Canyon only to be stopped by the local police for not "coming to a complete stop when turning out of a commercial establishment." Yeah...It was a friendly lady cop who gave me a warning and then talked to us at least 10 minutes about using the "east entrance" to the base, about hummingbirds in her yard, about this and that, while we were itching to move on, but really what could we do but listen politely since she had the power here. And it was probably worth it as we buzzed right through the east gate, although while waiting for the few cars ahead of us, we wondered why extremely loud rap music was allowed at the checkpoint. It surely didn't seem proper and military. As we drove up to the soldier who was checking cars through, he shook his head at us, and I asked "What???" wondering what now? (as I was in the misdemeanor mode) and he motioned to the motorcyclist just ahead of me who had been playing the music. It made sense since it was palpably loud and not something the Army would sanction, I'm sure.

We got coffee on the base and went up to the trailhead in Huachuca Canyon. My helpful birder friend had told us to be there by 8:00, and we were, along with another small vehicle with an older couple, the guy carrying a tripod and long lens. They were from Alaska, had seen trogons every time they came to this spot and were now headed farther up the canyon to see and hopefully photograph other uncommon birds. He said we had a 99% chance for the trogon and showed us a tree branch where they nest. He then quickly disappeared up the trail, and his wife (with a cane), moved more slowly. We first had to cross a small creek and then look for a sycamore.

The Trogon Road in Huachuca Canyon - AZ
With two minutes, DHC spotted an Elegant Trogon on a branch over the trail, but it flew before I saw more than a flicker. We lingered in the sycamore tree area, watching carefully, before moving up the canyon. The trogons could be seen in several places. I was as entranced by the beauty of this place as by the possibilities of seeing these birds. DHC, whose hearing is more acute than mine, decided to go down canyon as she kept hearing their "barking calls." In no way could the vocalizations be considered singing, and I could only hear it when they were close. So I went up; she went down and we kept in touch via text. Soon she had found two more! I eventually did get good looks at the trogon thanks to her. For me the calls had a ventriloquial quality, and I would hear them far off and in a different direction, but she persisted and found a total of four that morning! A few other birders showed up, also driving what seemed totally unsuitable little cars for the marginal road, although with care, it was navigable.

These mountain canyons with Arizona sycamores (Plantanis wrightii) are some of the most beautiful places I've seen out west. The trees are whitish and huge with grand gnarled branches; trogons nest in this habitat. I had the urge to keep hiking up the canyon to see what I could see, but the texts from Deborah kept coming and, really, what choice did I have? keep walking or see an Elegant Trogon? or two? or three?
Elegant Trogon painting in emporium in
Bisbee. DHC has real-time photos. My
camera had dead batteries. 

We returned to the base of the canyon where we had birded the night before and found a dozen people with binoculars.  I immediately saw a Painted Redstart across the creek. (DHC had seen this gorgeous bird at San Pedro yesterday, but not a very satisfactory sighting.) This one was in the shadows of the creek bank, a bright red, black and white bird that was a stunning contrast to the leaf duff where it flitted and foraged.

I met a woman from Pentwater, Michigan, a serious birder in search of a couple of lifers up canyon, but also interested in the trogons, although she had seen them. She was a serious lister and had an Alaskan birding trip scheduled in the near future. We found a Dusky-capped Flycatcher (life bird x2 for us), and the Hepatic Tanager from the night before showed again, whereupon DNC alerted the group, who all immediately came en masse to see it as it moved through the canopy.

Two birders were on a Sinoloa Wren stake-out right here and, with patience (involving hours of sitting in camp chairs), it is often seen, but we moved on, leaving this wonderful place.

Birding Huachuca Canyon - AZ
Both DHC and I had cameras on our  minds, and we found a Best Buy. The model I want is no longer sold by Best Buy (which was kind of a relief as I would have had to make a decision on whether to spend the money and it's pathetic how many cameras I have purchased in the last five years.) Deborah also looked at Canons, but at higher-end models. A very knowledgeable salesman gave her a tutorial and her options but she wasn't quite ready to buy yet. I needed a new battery so got that at least.

We ate lunch (again OG leftovers) in the parking lot under trees with noisy Great-tailed Grackles.  I called the kind gentleman who had helped us, and he told me that my call telling of our success and thanking him "made my day." His wife, who answered the phone, told me he had been "wondering" about us.

Sierra Vista is also the town that has a Blue Horizon were sent to FB for the cousins.

Finally we were ready to leave this town and drive the hour to Patagonia. The thing here is the yard of a house lately owned by people named Paton. For 35 years, they fed birds and their home became a destination for birders:

It all started with a bird at a feeder in Patagonia.
When Wally and Marion Paton looked out and saw a violet-crowned hummingbird in their backyard some time in the 1970s, they probably didn’t realize that this little bird was going to make the couple famous, at least in the birdwatching world. And they probably didn’t think that this encounter would ultimately lead to ownership of their modest ranch house and five acres being turned over to the Tucson Audubon Society.
The elder Patons have both died but left this legacy, delighting travelers from all over the world.

We did see the Violet-crowned Hummingbird, along with 20-30 other species in the couple of hours we were there. It's interesting at these places, as birders of all abilities congregate. The more knowledgeable quietly call out: "Zone-tailed Hawk at 2:00" or "Abert's Towhee in the brush pile under the window" or "Lazuli on feeder #22" or "Lesser Goldfinch at the water feature." There were tables and chairs in the shade and a box of birding guides available. Larry, the gentleman who is now the caretaker of the property and lives in the Paton home was there also (as he had been on the three consecutive days I visited earlier this year) and often spotted birds we would have missed. He seemed a gentle man with his native Mississippi accent and modest demeanor. Part of the property is getting spruced up with trails and delineated parking spaces but mostly it's just a back yard in a tiny southern Arizona town.

On the way to Nogales, we made a short stop at the Patagonia rest area, a half-mile pull-through along the main route.

Patagonia Rest Stop - Patagonia, AZ
High cliffs and small wooded canyons were on one side and a little creek with riparian growth was on the other. We heard birds and watched a couple traveling in a small RV try to figure out if the bird they saw was a thrush or not. The gentleman was ornery, saying to his wife "I know a Wood Thrush when I see one...." We tiptoed out of their space.

Nogales is a border town and not particularly lovely. Careful not to inadvertently get on the road to Mexico, we navigated the busy streets trying to find a place to eat...which we eventually found in a restaurant adjacent to a newly renovated motel and only two blocks from where I had made a Priceline reservation. Or so I thought.

We both noticed and commented on how nice the motel was as we left after good Mexican food and margaritas. When I checked into our motel, and after much consternation on my part when it appeared we had no reservation (and which I could not prove on my phone because it was totally dead and which did not want to charge even though I tried in the motel office), the nice Hispanic man at the desk gave me a discount. However, an hour later, after we were well settled in a marginal room and my phone was charged, I took it to the office to show I was right, except I wasn't. I had the motel name wrong; we were supposed to be in the less expensive, nicer-by-far motel where we had eaten dinner. Damn!

DHC joked that we could just walk there in our pajamas and sleep....which we almost seriously considered when a family was checking in and their every move heard through the thin walls and cracks in the door. Of course, I was chagrined and pissed.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Blue Goose ~ Day 308

March 31, 2015 ~ Sierra Vista, AZ

A day of change in plans but first we went back to Mary Jo's and sat in the morning sun for an hour, quietly chatting with the half dozen other birders who showed up. This time Mary Jo was there but harried as she had car problems and was trying to figure out how to get to Tucson in a car that wouldn't start.

What we had returned for specifically was the Lucifer Hummingbird. It had been seen recently at Mary Jo's but, as it turned out, not between March 30 to April 1, or at least not reported. Birding is a treasure hunt but sometimes there are no jewels or gold at the end, but the Lucifer would have been a jewel with it's long curved bill and "vividly purple throat."
Scott's Oriole at Ash Canyon (Mary Jo Ballator) - AZ

It was a fresh and sunny Arizona spring morning, as good as it gets for a person who perseverates on weather. We made a short stop at Casa de San Pedro before going on to the San Pedro River House. The Casa is another lovely peaceful birding B and B in the riparian habitat of the SP River. As we slowly drove through the circular drive, we spotted a pair of Greater Roadrunners madly dashing/running back and forth across the road with nest-building material. Was this DHC's first roadrunner sighting? I think so, although we also saw one running across a city street in Sierra Vista that day. But these stayed in the vicinity and she got some decent photos.

The San Pedro House is one of the access points for the SPRNCA (San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area) managed by the BLM. Volunteers staff the former ranch house, a sweet little sun-worn place filled with information and things to buy, like books, shirts, cards, pins, earrings, a few food items.... There were truly gigantic cottonwoods in the yard and a short trail through open fields down to the river. On the way, we began seeing Vermilion Flycatchers and, while we didn't see many other birds, we did see several brilliant males and less conspicuous females with an orange-apricot blush on their bellies.
Vermilion Flycatcher - San Pedro RNCA - Sierra Vista, AZ
If Vermilions are present, they are often easy to see as their behavior is typical of flycatchers which fly out to catch insects and return to an exposed branch, repetitively. The river had water but not much and the woods were quiet. But it was the middle of the day, often not a good time to search for birds.  We walked around down there, under huge trees in filtered sunlight for 45 minutes, only seeing a very occasional bird flit by or sing in the distance.

We ate last night's leftovers on a picnic table in the shade back and DHC watched the hummingbird feeders in hopes of seeing an Anna's but without luck. It was now early afternoon and, while our specific plans were loose, we did have the general idea to head to Patagonia and the famous Paton yard. But why not drive to Ft. Huachuca and Garden Canyon first...which we did. As DHC says, the roads through this military base were "spaghetti" and it took concentration to navigate to the canyon but we eventually found it. We had to go through a checkpoint and show IDs but then were allowed to drive by guys on their bellies shooting at far-off targets and past fields with possible unexploded ordinance, etc. there were warnings all over to basically stay in one's vehicle in these areas. DHC was surprised we were even given permission to move through the shooting fields. Garden Canyon had a gate across the entrance with "Bear Activity" warnings, but I also think there was construction and road improvement activity precipitating the closure.

And it was about this time, while driving back six miles and while DHC was out of the car taking photos, that I found out from eBird that Elegant Trogons were in Huachuca Canyon and were being seen regularly, which was way too enticing to not try for.... We were in the middle of a short but intense rainstorm as we drove to the canyon, not far, but through the "spaghetti" again.
Ft. Huachuca - AZ
We knew the rain would pass as the skies showed dramatic clouds but bright clearing to the west. And by the time we found the beginning of the canyon, the sun was out and the air was fresh as it is after a brief cleansing rain. We had a general idea of where the trogons were but not specifically. I decided to email a local birder for more precise directions. We stopped at a gorgeous little creek at the base of the canyon and saw a Black-throated  Gray Warbler (life bird for both of us), a Townsend's (life DHC) and then a Hepatic Tanager popped into view in the high branches above us. There were dozens of Audubon Yellow-rumps all over and titmice, wrens, finches, woodpeckers, flycatchers...a pair of Gray Hawks flying overhead.

We started up the very very rough road, still not exactly sure where we were going, and after a mile we turned around. Our highest speed was 5 mph as we dodged rocks and ruts, moving carefully so as not to puncture a tire or bottom out. But, soon I got great news: a detailed description of where to find the trogons. They were best seen in the morning and we would have to drive up the canyon another mile or two, so we stayed a second night at the same motel (Sierra Suites), ate another meal at Olive Garden and made plans to get up early and find these elusive gorgeous exotic birds.
Ft. Huachuca - closing in on the Elegant Trogons

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Blue Goose ~ Day 307

March 30, 2015 ~ Lordsburg, NM to Sierra Vista, AZ

Surprise...I forgot to get gas until we were 15 miles down the road. So with a little help from our friends the smart phones, we figured we could probably make it to San Simeon, especially if I drove at a turtle's pace (55 mph). The other option was to return to Lordsburg which neither of us wanted to going back if we could avoid it. 

And of course, we made it. One of the advantages of being the unexpected driver was that DHC filled the tank every stop we stopped, a luxury for me. And, ultimately, this gas stop worked out well as we then took back roads to Portal...back roads meaning unpaved, deeply rutted at times, over a small mountain, with occasional sharp rocks poking through the road bed, over the ubiquitous "dips" which are all over the southwest and are channels for flash floods, but which were usually bone-dry this time of year.
DHC on the road to Paradise, AZ
The rainy (monsoon) season is summer. We did, once or twice though, drive through a few inches of water in these dippy places. It was beautiful and wild. We thought we were headed to Paradise, but bypassed it, or maybe went through it; sometimes it's hard to tell with the tiny villages. Not far down the road was Cave Creek Ranch, a few miles south of another small town - Portal, AZ. It was wonderful with dozens of feeders, a peaceful, quiet and lovely place in the stunning venue of the eastern Chiricahuas.

Cave Creek Ranch - Portal, AZ
One could wander about the property or sit and watch birds come and go: Blue-throated, Broad-billed, Magnificent and Black-chinned Hummingbirds, Acorn and Ladder-backed Woodpeckers, Canyon, Cactus and Bewick's Wrens, Curve-billed Thrasher, Abert's Towhee, Lesser Goldfinch, Bridled Titmice and more. A fly-over Sharp-shinned scattered the birds, resulting in perfect silence for about 30 seconds. And again, DHC met a gentleman from Indianapolis, here for the birding with his wife and brother. He was a neurologist and offered some insights into childhood psychology / neurology / diagnosing issues.
Magnificent Hummingbird - Cave Creek Canyon - AZ

We ate at the Portal store, discovering a day later that a Rufous-backed Robin hung out in the parking lot here. We would likely have seen it from the window next to our table had we known. Shucks.....

This was a small but well-stocked general store  where DHC found Visine for me. For some reason, my eyes had been burning, but I washed them out with clear water and the discomfort slowly cleared. The food here was extraordinarily good, offsetting the somewhat flat affect of the woman at the cash register.

After driving to Douglas on the border, we turned northwest and stopped in the unique town of Bisbee, built around an immense open pit mine of red-ravaged earth created by extracting copper. Mining fortunes waxed and mostly waned, but the town emerged as a venue for "artists and hippies," and tourists now visit by the thousands. Old Bisbee is built on steep hills reminiscent of San Francisco, but is 1000 times smaller. Narrow stairs lead from the lower street to those above. There are shops and galleries and antique emporiums, along with the century-old Copper Queen Hotel (haunted by a prostitute, it is said) and places to eat ice-cream or dinner, have coffee or just sit in the sun with a glass of wine or beer. It's ramshackly and counterculture, appealing and quaint.

We drove west a few miles and then turned due north to another famous birding venue: Mary Jo Ballator's place in Ash Creek Canyon. There are several canyons running east from the Huachuca Mountains, and Ash Canyon is one of the six or eight in the area of Sierra Vista, all prime birding places as the habitat changes with altitude, attracting a grand variety of birds. The broad valley here, between the Chiricahua and Huachuca Mountains, is the San Pedro River Valley 57,000 acres of which are designated as a Riparian National Conservation Area.

I had stopped at Ash Canyon earlier this year and had chatted an hour with Mary Jo on her patio. That day was chilly and overcast but still with many birds coming to her feeders. I was the only visitor and I remember her Gray African Parrot well, but just now read that he unexpectedly died on 02/28/2015 (or perhaps she had two parrots?). Whatever, of course, this was hugely sad for her. Even from our brief encounter, I knew she was a singular person, making her way in this exquisite canyon by creating a birding haven, open from "dawn to dusk" everyday except Wednesdays when she opens at noon.  Again, there were comfortable chairs with dozens of feeders and small paths and gardens, all in a magnificently scenic tucked-away spot. Mary Jo also has a casita next to her home, which she runs as a Bed and Breakfast for birders. This is my favorite birding place of this sort in southeast Arizona. Her home faces west over a smaller side canyon to the mountains in the near distance.

We watched Rufous and Broad-billed Hummingbirds fly in and out and sat quietly in the last light, reveling in the ambiance. Mary Jo was not outside, so DHC did not meet her. Scott's Orioles showed up, along with most of the birds we saw at Cave Creek earlier.

As we left, I pulled over just out of Mary Jo's driveway to book a motel in Sierra Vista, whereupon Deborah got out her binoculars and spotted a Gray Hawk sitting on a telephone pole! This was a life bird for both of us, and my second of the day. (Blue-throated Hummingbird was the first.) For her, it was probably the 10th or 12th.
Gray Hawk - Ash Canyon, AZ

We got a good deal on Priceline in a comfortable non-chain motel but first went to Olive Garden for dinner, which (if available) easily becomes a first choice on these birding trips, if only for the fresh salad. Since we both also like pasta, it's an easy decision.

At the end of the long days, we would check in to a motel and immediately download the photos of the day and do a show-and-tell while bringing our notes up-to-date.

Turkey Vulture in the Chirircahuas

Acorn Woodpecker at Cave Creek Ranch - AZ

Curve-billed Thrasher - Cave Creek Ranch - AZ

Friday, April 17, 2015

Blue Goose ~ Day 306

March 29, 2015 ~ Socorro, NM to Lordsburg, NM

Since we were driving south anyway and the old route goes through right Bosque, we headed there again. I wanted to show her the VC feeders which is where I once saw a Virginia's Warbler. But on the way, DHC caught a glimpse of something in the roadside ditch and wanted to check it out....a heavy yellow clay pot, a bit worn but intact and just sitting there forlornly waiting for her to come by. Into the trunk....

We also spotted a Curve-billed Thrasher and a Say's Phoebe hanging around a flatbed truck in someone's front yard.
Say's Phoebe - near Bosque del Apache NWR - NM

The phoebe was new for DHC; she was adding several birds a day to her list which was almost as much fun for me. We got to the VC just after 8:00 when it opened. The grounds were lovely with cottonwoods just starting to leaf out, smaller bushes and trees, numerous cacti, small gravel trails, impossibly blue skies, reddish earth and distant blue-grey mountains. Of course the sunshine embellished all of this....

A gentleman volunteer talked with DHC about meadowlark ID and had helpful hints. He then went to fill the feeders for the day. Since the birds literally "wait" outside for this to happen every morning, the staff also waits until the first human visitors show up so as to make the most of their bird feed which is greedily and quickly gobbled up. He told us that a Green-tailed Towhee was especially eager and would be close enough to touch (or nearly), and so it happened as we watched from inside. (Another life bird for DHC). A Spotted Towhee also showed up pecking around the brush pile. He threw some seed on the windowsills which attracted White-winged Doves for extreme closeups as they tried to perch on the narrow ledge, competing with numerous House Finches.
White-winged Dove - Bosque del Apache NWR- NM

One of Deborah's target birds (at this point the main one) was a Vermilion Flycatcher, and the volunteer marked three areas on the refuge map for us. We went off on a successful search, seeing a pair, the male exquisitely scarlet and black, perched high in a tree. And then we had the delight of a pair of Bushtits obviously engaged in nest building as they both had big pieces of white fluff in their mouths and were frenetically flying about. These birds eventually flew across the road and we reluctantly moved on.

DHC wanted a photos of Truth or Consequences so we stopped at the post office there briefly and then drove on to Lordsburg, NM, for the night. Dining options were nearly non-existent, but we found a small shabby restaurant by the RR tracks and had pretty awful Tex-Mex. It was really a dreary place but our motel (Comfort Inn) was fine. We were always glad to get off the road by late afternoon...out of the bright sunshine (which DHC really noticed and was slightly bothered by) and out of traffic. We had to drive hard the first few days to get to SE Arizona where everything became very reasonable as far as miles to go each day.

Deborah at Bosque del Apache NWR - NM