Phil Jeffrey:: Arizona, May/June 2013 trip report
Timing was dictated by wanting to cover NYC spring migration and the Hatteras Pelagic. Absent these considerations it would have been better to do this trip some time in May. In 2006 I was there the week before Memorial Day weekend.
I flew PHL-PHX via Southwest airlines. The PHL-PHX leg went fine and was even a little early, but the PHX-PHL leg was less satisfactory with a delay before take-off and further delays after boarding with slow bag loading. Service standard on that return leg was also below average for Southwest, and they usually do a good job. Three of my four flights on Southwest have been good, I'm hopeful this was more of an anomaly (and late day summer flights are more prone to knock-on effects of weather delays).
In contrast with my sub-par experience with Budget on the previous AZ trip in February, I rented from Dollar this time and via partnership with Southwest got a good deal on a SUV. I put about 2,200 miles on it, some of it on dirt roads, but also spent some time cleaning it up before returning it - I don't like to make it quite so obvious that I was using it off-tarmac although rental companies are surely not naive. Quite a decent SUV, the Escape, having a somewhat car-like ride but also taking difficult roads like Carr Canyon Rd with some aplomb. Unfortunately it was only doing about 25-26 mpg despite a lot of highway miles and going easy on the gas pedal. Needing to use the a/c a lot has something to do with this.
I did one evening of guided night birding with a local Patagonia birder and guide Matt Brown - I met him on the Nome section of my 2012 AK trip and he has excellent local knowledge with led us straight to good looks at my life Mexican Whip-poor-will. This would have eluded me otherwise, and while I don't usually use guides (Matt is the first guide I've used personally) I particularly recommend him if you're looking for one in se.AZ. I also mined eBird sightings using the BirdsEye iPhone app while in the field (find local hotspots and sightings) although given my level of preparation this time it was not especially important. To a lesser extent I've used the Tucson Audubon's "Finding Birds in S.E. Arizona" book for which I have an older version. I took this book with me although I already knew directions to most places based on planning for prior trips. It lacks some destinations like Montosa Canyon and its level of detail sometimes leaves something to be desired. Such a lot of data is available online now that probably many of the books (e.g. ABA Lane guides) are getting a little out of date, nevertheless you need to be careful - there's not universal cell data coverage in s.e.AZ so you'll either need a laptop with downloaded pages, or some hard copies of the more critical data. There's a gap that eBooks could bridge here.
|four in Sunflower along Sycamore Creek
|nesting pair in Madera Cyn
|one in Willcox at a mall (!)
|individuals in grassland
|Madera Cyn, Mt Lemmon and Sunflower
|Santa Cruz flats and near Sunflower
|South Fork Cave Creek, Madera Cyn
|Willcox - an AZ rarity
|Carr Cyn, Madera Cyn (at feeders!)
|perhaps the most abundant bird of the trip
|one only over I-10
|heard-only, Madera and Harshaw Canyons
|Miller Cyn, adult and nestlings
|Miller Cyn, male and nestlings
|one over Harshaw Cyn
|heard-only Carr Cyn, Madera Cyn, Harshaw Cyn
|Proctor Rd at Miller Cyn - total of two
|Paton's in Patagonia
|one at Miller Cyn plus a probable at Madera Kubo
|Paton's in Patagonia
|South Fork Cave Creek
|only two in lowland riparian
|South Fork Cave Creek, top of Chiricahuas
|surprisingly easy to find on this trip in all major canyons
|Madera Canyon, South Fork Cave Creek
|Patagonia Rest Stop
|one or two in montane
|highway river bridges
|South Fork Cave Creek and Madera Cyn
|Madera Cyn and South Fork Cave Creek
|South Fork Cave Creek, Mt Lemmon
|upper desert, one at Carr Cyn campground
|one singing bird at Mt Lemmon
|one singing bird at Mt Lemmon
|uncommon desert (Portal, Florida Wash etc)
|Patagonia and Sunflower
|Audubon's race Mt Lemmon
|Carr Cyn, Mt Lemmon, South Fork Cave Creek
|Black-throated Gray Warbler
|Carr Cyn and Mt Lemmon
|Madera and Montosa Cyns, Patagonia rest area
|Florida Wash (Madera)
|Proctor Rd (Madera), lower Carr Canyon Rd
|Paton's in Patagonia
|Madera Cyn, Florida Cyn, Montosa Cyn
|Willcox area grasslands
|all too frequent in canyons
|Portal, Mt Ord, Madera Cyn, South Fork Cave Creek
|one or two at feeders in Patagonia and Madera Cyn, also top of Chiricahuas
An aside in an email to the AZ-NM list from Tom Beatty about the potential for National Forest closures led me to change the initial plans in favor of visiting the Huachucas as soon as possible for owling. Coronado NF covers all the major AZ canyons I intended to bird, so despite 10 days in AZ I decided to front-load the search for target species. I actually spent the 3 days before the trip in some level of paranoia, frequently reloading the Coronado NF web page for closure info. In fact all forest stayed open although they were very dry with limited water. As of 6/11 they are still open and updating this at the end of June there are no widespread closures, nor are there significant ongoing fires in s.e. AZ. Colorado has not been so lucky, however.
It was about a 3 hour drive from Phoenix to Miller Canyon Rd (Hereford/Sierra Vista) after picking up a small SUV (Ford Escape) from Dollar at the off-airport centralized car rental facility. Dollar were efficient at the check-in desk, with no over-the-top attempts to up-sell. On the road it was mainly doves (Mourning, White-winged, Eurasian Collared, Rock Pigeon) a few Red-tailed Hawks, Great-tailed Grackles, one American Kestrel and some House Sparrows. The American Kestrel was an interesting find, one of only two for the trip, but there are some irrigated farm fields in the span from Phoenix to Tucson. White-winged Doves proved to be about the commonest birds for the trip, all over the place anywhere from urban to lower mountain canyons. I had a couple of strange hawks that look long-winged and hovered, contrasting with the fairly stock views I had of obvious Red-tailed. I'm not sure if I was seeing Swainson's or Ferruginous but I really didn't expect to be seeing either - turns out via eBird that Ferruginous are essentially unknown at that time of year, but Swainson's apparently breed in the Tucson area - in fact I saw an obvious one late in the day while driving north out of Sierra Vista and had a few others. Red-tailed Hawks can hover so I'm still not totally sure what I saw in every case.
Apart from a quick lunch stop there was no dawdling between Phoenix and Sierra Vista. At Miller Cyn, I managed to get some advice on where to find the owls, which proved to be on right the money. Walking up canyon along the broad trail I could see signs of damage from the Monument Fire (and the flooding that followed did a lot of damage to Beatty's property) and the further damage caused by the town of Tombstone basically stealing all the water from Miller Canyon (they do some of that in neighboring Carr Canyon as well) to the detriment of the habitat and wildlife. I had Rock and Bewick's Wren, Mexican Jay, Spotted Towhee and a variety of unfamiliar bird calls which tends to be a feature of the early going in western birding trips. I found the left fork off the main trail on the second attempt and saw the Spotted Owl before I even reached the fallen tree near the roost spot - the nominal marker. This was the male, and although initially facing the other way it ultimately posed rather cooperatively - doubtless used by now to birders turning up and gawking. I don't think it even looked at me once. This is a Mexican Spotted Owl, which is a different subspecies to the northern Spotted Owls that are currently being impacted by Barred Owl introgression and hybridization. A potential future split ?
Returning the short distance to the main trail, I kept heading up canyon and encountered two more birders who told me of the location of the Northern Pygmy-Owl nest including a visible roosting adult. I picked up my pace then - at this juncture, having found Spotted Owl, Northern Pygmy-Owl was the only continental USA breeding owl I hadn't seen. I found the nest and immediately saw the top of a nestling as it peered out at me before dropping back down in the hole. Because I didn't want to sit too close to the best, and also because I couldn't find the adult that the other birders talked about, I selected a shady spot further from the nest and sat down and waited. Eventually I located an active adult which over time approached the nest and delivered a lizard to the nest hole. The lizard appeared to be a pretty good size relative to the size of the owl. After a few minutes the adult exited, being scolded by a pair of House Wrens and a Black-throated Gray Warbler - both of them potential prey items. After a few minutes, not wishing the pressure this bird, I packed up to go downhill and encountered as I did so an Arizona Woodpecker. Further down the trail beyond the Spotted Owl (seen again) I saw a Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher. Any number of mysterious songs and calls were in the canyon, and I was unfamiliar with most of them - e.g. what I now know to be a Western Wood-Pewee was calling in the distance but not giving any looks. I also saw a greenish Empidonax with a large eye ring and a solid yellow lower mandible (Cordilleran, perhaps, although perhaps low enough in the canyon to be a late migrant Pacific-slope), along with a couple of Bridled Titmice.
Back down at Beatty's I spent about an hour at the Controlled Access Site (CAS) where I saw: many Black-chinned Hummingbirds, some Broad-tailed and Broad-billed Hummingbirds, several male Magnificent Hummingbirds and one female but no Blue-throated, and finally the male White-eared Hummingbird put in an appearance. This is also a species I saw on my last visit to Miller Canyon in 2006 but this was only my second one. Painted Redstart visited the small pond and an Acorn Woodpecker visited the sugar feeders. Although it was fairly hot and birding noon-3:30pm isn't exactly prime time it was particularly successful and I got 2/3 of my target life birds with excellent looks (and some photos) in one go. Great start to the trip, although now I had to track down some of these passerines that were being elusive during the afternoon.
Leaving Sierra Vista I went back up to Tucson and checked into the decent America's Best Value Inn in southern Tucson. This chain seems to have hotels a notch above the baseline Motel 6 at prices that are quite reasonable if you pick the dates carefully. I use kayak.com to track down hotels. On this trip, because of me reshuffling the schedule only a couple of days before departure, I basically booked hotels the night before or did walk-ins. A Rodeway Inn in downtown Tucson try to gouge me a little with the walk-in price later in the trip, whereupon they lost my business and I went to a nearby Days Inn, but for the most part this worked just fine - I wasn't on a tight schedule so I could spend a little time scouting. Not all that many people travel to AZ in the summer, so hotels are not at capacity.
In the evening I headed out to Madera Canyon, getting to the Proctor Road lot just above the entrance visitor station fairly close to sunset: Lesser Nighthawks were over the road and Proctor parking area, plus several species of bats (including at least one large-eared type). I walked a way down Proctor Road to the vicinity of camp site 6 and heard a Buff-collared Nightjar. Carefully and slowly stalking it by heading west of camp site 6 through the grasslands I tracked it down via persistent singing. Despite it moving around between perches (or perhaps because of) I eventually saw it fly from one song perch to another in silhouette before turning back east and returning to the road. Common Poorwills were heard from the hillsides but I could hear no Whip-poor-wills or Owls, likely needing to be higher up the canyon for that. On exit, a Border Patrol helicopter was hovering low over the desert near Florida Wash and there was a lot of patrol activity there.
Up in the 680's for my USA life list, it's somewhat of a miracle to get 3 terrestrial life birds in a single afternoon-evening and yet I had managed two target lifers and one rarity on the arrival day. The days when I can do that sort of thing are numbered, and perhaps gone for ever, certainly in the Lower 48 unless I'm on a California pelagic.
Up at Proctor Road: Summer Tanager (two males displaying), a few Phainopepla, Cassin's Kingbird, House Finch, a heard Varied Bunting singing from the hillside, Blue Grosbeaks, Bewick's Wren, Black-headed Grosbeak, Brown-crested Flycatcher, Bell's Vireos singing up a storm, Verdin, one or two Lucy's Warblers and my least favorite USA bird: the Brown-headed Cowbird. Bell's Vireos were persistent singers along with Bewick's Wren on this trip, despite many of them having fledged juveniles in tow. Above Proctor Road a really large immature accipiter was harassing vultures, dive-bombing them. It was a little too far away to be sure it wasn't just a very large Cooper's, but by size alone I suspected Northern Goshawk. The belligerent attitude was also consistent. In breeding plumage it would have been possible to pull that ID off but immatures are a lot trickier at the range I was viewing it.
Up canyon at the Madera picnic area: Acorn Woodpecker, Scott's Oriole, quite vocal Gray Hawk at the nest, Summer Tanager, Brown-crested Flycatcher. Driving to the lot at the top of Madera there were more Brown-crested Flycatchers, heard Dusky-capped Flycatcher, vocal Hutton's Vireo, Plumbeous Vireo and Western Tanager singing along the Super Trail which I hiked for a few hundred yards. Dropping down to the Amphitheater lot: one Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher, Western Wood-Pewee, Summer Tanager pair (of a female and immature male), an oriole female that was likely Scott's. Walking down to Santa Rita lodge the feeders were quite busy with a few Siskin, many Lesser Goldfinch, Mexican Jay, one Wild Turkey, Black-chinned, Broad-billed Hummingbirds and one belligerent male Magnificent Hummingbird. The surprise at the feeders was a male Varied Bunting, giving excellent looks (and at the time only the second one I had ever seen). Varied Buntings were more common on this trip than the 2006 trip perhaps because I was two weeks later. More species at the feeders included the ubiquitous White-winged Doves, the resident Acorn Woodpeckers and White-breasted Nuthatch. Walking from Madera picnic area to Amphitheater via the stream-side nature trail I added : Arizona Woodpecker, Hepatic Tanagers, Painted Redstarts, Dusky-capped and Sulphur-bellied Flycatchers, Bridled Titmice, Northern (Red-shafted) Flicker, Mexican Jay and House Wren. Much good owl territory along the stream with owl-sized holes in many sycamores. Madera had yielded a good cross-section of the land birds I was to encounter in other montane canyons on this trip and the habitat is similar within all these canyons with local variations.
Despite the questionable idea of afternoon desert birding I headed out to the wash at Montosa Canyon, mainly in search of a potential Black-capped Gnatcatcher. I think the high was "only" upper 90's on Friday but soon pushed into the 100's for every day subsequently. On the dirt road up from Amado I saw Loggerhead Shrike and Black-throated Sparrow. Once on the paved road and headed into National Forest territory I passed the Smithsonian observatory to the south then after a short stretch of dirt road I stopped at the canyon at the concrete culvert: Bell's Vireo, Western Tanager, Northern Cardinal, (heard) Canyon Wren, Verdin, Black-throated Sparrows, but no Gnatcatchers of any sort. The Mesquites and Ocatillos were flowering and there was quite a lot of insect life despite no visible water. Most of the visible water was me sweating, and the insects were aware of that too. After exiting the canyon and headed south along the frontage road a spied a breeding male Ruddy Duck in a roadside pond - makes me wonder what its exit strategy was from this location - I didn't see an awful lot of open water along the San Pedro "River" valley. Nevertheless there was a roadside pond so its situation was probably not as dire as it immediately appeared.
Deciding to make the loop to Sierra Vista via Nogales, I finally wound my way through that congested city and made a curiosity stop at Kino Springs that I had visited in previous years. Kino Springs is a golf course development that gives the impression of never having totally caught on - and like other golf courses in AZ features quite a lot of brown along with the green. The trees and scrub near the entrance road had been mostly cleared around a pump structure, and there was no water in the first pond although the large cottonwoods were still there - at one point Gray Hawk nested in those cottonwoods. The other large cottonwoods were gone (dead) from the golf course pond near the club house (from previous years' droughts) but the pond did hold some water: Vermilion Flycatcher, European Starling, Barn Swallow were around the golf course pro shop and other flycatcher sp may have been around - I had a couple of fleeting views of things but this wasn't a target birding location and I moved on.
Headed north on the scenic AZ-82 - also beset with truck traffic making the short cut to I-10 - I stopped at Patagonia Rest stop. Rufous-crowned Sparrow was feeding down in the lot, White-throated Swifts were overhead, Phainopepla were on the arid slopes but the Thick-billed Kingbird did prove difficult to find - eventually I saw a distant one flycatching from an old agave stalk. This species is apparently not always easy to find here but are certainly nesting. I heard Yellow-breasted Chat, Western Wood-Pewee, Canyon Wren and Yellow Warbler but didn't see any of them. Western Tanager, Blue Grosbeak and Brown-crested Flycatcher were somewhat more cooperative. I made an afternoon stop at the Paton's place Patagonia, now on the market but still open to birders: a seen singing Yellow-breasted Chat, Black-chinned/Broad-billed/Violet-crowned/Anna's Hummingbirds (one each of the latter two), Gambel's Quail family, Blue Grosbeaks feeding on the lawn, more damn Cowbirds, Canyon and Abert's Towhee, Lesser Goldfinch and one Pine Siskin, Curve-billed Thrasher, Western Wood-Pewee, poss Western Kingbird (bad looks), Gray Hawk across the road, Lark Sparrow, House Finch, Eurasian Collared-Dove Gila and Ladder-backed Woodpeckers and one Cooper's Hawk being harassed by a probable Western Kingbird. One of the hallmarks of the trip, and how I'd divided my time, is that I saw very few certain Western Kingbirds, probably seeing more Cassin's, although there were a lot of partial uncertain glimpses of fly-bys while driving.
Leaving Patagonia, ten miles up the road to the Sonoita rest area where I stopped to look for Meadowlarks but instead found a pair of Scaled Quail plus one or two "interesting" sparrows that flew across the road (Cassin's?). Beyond that point it was a fairly quick drive to Sierra Vista where I stayed at the same America's Best Value Inn I visited in February for a couple of nights. It's certainly a better option than the Motel 6 which looks pretty crappy in Sierra Vista.
In the night-time foray up Carr Canyon the only nocturnal bird seen was a probable Common Poorwill on the way back down, that leapt off the road before I got to it. Can't imagine what else it might have been but it stays off the 2013 year list because it was just out of diagnostic range. Too much traffic on the road for a repeat try. I drove up to the head of Ramsey Canyon and in doing so didn't hear any Mexican Whip-poor-wills. Prospects did not look too good for that species, since recent reports from Madera at 9pm suggested nothing vocalizing. Randomly encountering one wasn't really going to happen and actually seeing one would require a more overt effort on the following Thursday.
As in 2006 I hiked the Comfort Spring trail: White-throated Swifts circling in the canyon, a pair of Virginia's Warblers obviously feeding young, Red-faced Warblers singing, Steller's Jay, two Band-tailed Pigeons, more Yellow-eyed Juncos (also with fledglings), Black-headed Grosbeak, Dusky- and Brown-capped Flycatchers, but no other flycatchers. The spring wasn't particularly active apart from thriving insect life, so rather than hike further down-canyon I turned around and on the ascent: Northern Mockingbird was holding territory near the campsite, plus a Violet-green Swallow. That's very, very high up for a Northern Mockingbird compared to all the other ones I saw on this trip below the "oak line" in the lower canyons. Along the road between the campsite at the end of the road and the Reef Townsite: Greater Pewee, Buff-breasted Flycatcher, and an ambiguous Empidonax flycatcher giving a "wheet" call which suggested it wasn't a Buff-breasted. I'm not tuned for the identification of obscure western Empidonax sp. so I decided to let that one go. The Buff-breasteds really aren't all that buffy by June, despite the lurid depiction in the Sibley guide, but they have a call that is quite a lot different to other Empidonax (in fact it reminded me distantly of Least Tern) so that clinched the ID. In retrospect people had been seeing them at the Reef Townsite campground, if I had taken enough care in checking eBird results. Buff-breasted Flycatchers appear to benefit from recent forest burns so they might be expected to move territories around. That same paper also indicates significant population reduction due to "modern" fire suppression policies and a worryingly low total of 131 individuals in the entire USA during 1995-1996. While the Whooping Crane may be the bird with the smallest worldwide population that I've seen, Buff-bellied Flycatcher seems even rarer on a breeding basis - other AZ specialties like Elegant Trogon and Mexican Chickadee are likely rarer still.
Down out of Carr it was late enough that I abandoned any idea of of battling for the limited parking spaces at Ramsey Canyon and so I headed out to Willcox using the I-10 route. At Cochise Lakes: American Avocet (adults on nest), American Coot, Killdeer (fledglings), White-faced Ibis, Black-bellied Plover, two Eared Grebes, Green-winged Teal, Northern Shoveler, (Mexican) Mallard, Horned Lark, Great-tailed Grackle, Say's Phoebe, Barn Swallow, Swainson's Hawk. It was pretty damn hot at this point so I retreated to the Days Inn I was staying in for the next two nights, this hotel in Willcox which was perfectly suited for my needs and I was able to do some laundry. But it was mostly motivated by retreating from the afternoon heat until near dusk. Main street in Willcox shows ample evidence of urban decline: what once were multiple hotels are in various stages of fenced off, boarded up or being demolished. Most of the commercial activity has gravitated to the interstate. The Motel 8 that I stayed in back in 2006 was still in operation, however (it really is Motel 8 - that's not a typo).
At dusk I made the drive south-east to the western flank of the Chirichahuas stopping at various locations for Whip-poor-wills, owls and checking my "historically" good location for Common Poorwill. In fact I heard nothing at all, rather bizarre since in Madera Cyn I at least heard some night birds. I also saw no Poorwills, which remained stubbornly on the heard-only part of my trip list. Twas not a full moon, which didn't help, but I should have heard *something*.
Two of the restaurant options that I was interested in at Willcox turned out to be closed on Sundays. And so I considered a visit to Cochise Stronghold in the nearby Dragoon Mtns until I figured out that the campsite is closed as of June 1st. So I had an evening off. The one birding highlight was an unexpected sighting at sunset near the Willcox Interstate/Safeway - a lone Harris's Hawk. Actually the only one for the trip.
Original plan included getting lunch at the Portal Store cafe but in an act of genius they closed it on that Monday. In fact closed for about three weeks. Not a lot of options within a 25 mile radius but fortunately I was packing spare food. I think I can wipe Portal off the map for potential places to stay on future trips - there's not a lot of point staying in a B&B if you have to do a 50+ mile round trip to handle lunch and dinner. This is the problem with the Chiricahuas - they're out in the back of beyond with the nearest big AZ town (Willcox) not much to write home about and Portal is microscopic with minimal facilities.
Back to the birding: perched Red-tailed Hawk, Chihuahuan Raven on the drive in. A Swainson's Hawk roosting in shade of machine shed (near Rodeo, NM), a Greater Roadrunner in NM. using tarmac route via Rodeo. Near Portal: Scaled Quail, Gambel's Quail, heard Botteri's Sparrow in the same place as the previous day, Black-throated Sparrow, Cassin's and Ash-throated Flycatchers and a single Violet-Green Swallow over the creek in Portal. No orioles this time around
I stopped at the South Fork Cave Creek junction: Painted Redstart, Hermit Thrush, Black-throated Gray, a flock of Mexican Jays mobbing a Cooper's Hawk and dive-bombing it, a possible Virginia's Warbler (perhaps a little out of habitat?), Brown-crested Flycatcher, Plumbeous Vireo. At this early point in the day the lower canyon mostly in shadow. Some really optimistic/speculative searching for roosting Whip-poor-wills by scanning horizontal branches of a certain size failed to pull off what would be an unlikely find.
Up at the parking lot/picnic area at South Fork Cave Creek it seemed quieter than Sunday - both less cars but also less singing birds, although I was here a little earlier in the day by 30 minutes or so. I found basically the same species as the previous day: White-throated Swift, Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher, Brown-crested and Dusky-capped Flycatchers, families of both Hairy and Arizona Woodpeckers with young birds, Common Raven, Spotted Towhee, Hermit Thrush, Bushtit, Bewick's and House Wrens, Black-throated Gray and Grace's Warblers, Paint Redstart. Beyond the third stream crossing two Wild Turkeys were coming down the dry hillside to drink. A huge Common Raven was hunting through the canyon forest and passed right by me, totally unafraid. I headed upstream of the wire gate across the canyon for several hundred yards. Along this stretch I had a pair of Elegant Trogons - detected by voice - and investigating a nest hole in a sycamore (possibly nesting there).
Towards noon I took the alternate route via Paradise up to the crest of the Chiricahuas I stopped in Barfoot Park which was Not so much at Barfoot: Yellow-eyed Junco, American Robin, Plumbeous Vireo, Steller's Jay, Northern (Red-shafted) Flicker, Common Raven, and the ubiquitous Western Wood-Pewee. No sign of Olive Warbler or Mexican Chickadee but I think Paradise Junction might have been a better option for the latter.
I headed west out of the Chiricahuas, as with the previous day, and stopped at Cochise Lakes in Willcox in the afternoon heat. There I spied an interesting gull that I assumed must be a Franklin's based on range but which actually showed many features of Laughing Gull. There's no way I thought it could be that species but multiple observers confirmed it as this on the AZ-NM list later in the day, so Laughing Gull is now on my AZ list. Two Cattle Egrets, also somewhat of a local novelty, were accompanying the cattle that were grazing the edges of these somewhat pungent ponds. Apart from a single juvenile Horned Lark the species were the same as the previous day.
No night-time forays this time around.
I then headed Miller Canyon, stopping at the hummingbird feeders for a while before walking up canyon: White-eared Hummingbird, and a single Blue-throated Hummingbird were the good finds here along with the predictable Broad-tailed/Broad-billed/Magnificent/Black-chinned. At the Spotted Owl site the male was in evidence - even closer to the trail than before but facing away from me, plus the two nestlings were obvious in the sycamore. That particular sycamore was hollowed out at the base by previous fires, so it remains to be seen quite how long that one will be standing. The Spotted Owl female was more elusive, doubtless roosting in more cover. Up at the Northern Pygmy-Owl nests the nestlings were periodically gazing out of their hole but the adults had taken a pause from feeding. The rest of the canyon birding produced: Rock/House/Bewick's Wrens, Western Wood-Pewee, Lesser Goldfinch and not a great deal else adjacent to trail. The Miller Canyon trail is broad and cuts a swath through the canyon, rather than being integral with it like South Fork Cave Creek and in some ways this reduces the birding opportunities.
By early afternoon my enthusiasm for birding in the 100 degree temperatures was very limited, Ramsey Canyon was closed on Tuesday's, and I lacked enthusiasm for night-time birding this time around. I stayed locally in Sierra Vista with the intention of heading out to Tucson the following morning. This was basically a "recharge" afternoon after the first half of the trip.
In Florida Canyon toward dusk I was mainly looking for Black-capped Gnatcatcher - which of course I failed to find, but a male Varied Bunting was a decent consolation. Bell's Vireo, Rock Wren, Tanager sp. were also here. Over at Proctor Road at Madera Canyon I heard a Buff-collared Nightjar sing once way up at the cattle grate at the dirt road - this seemed odd given that the normal site was several hundred yards further down the road. I checked with the birders assembled near site 7 and nobody had been taping, so I remained puzzled. Eventually those birders wandered up the road, but I heard the Buff-collared Nightjar singing off to the north-west. While walking slowly up the road I had a Nightjar sp. fly right past me, and I think that it was the Buff-collared but it may have been a Poorwill. Eventually I headed off up the road to the car, in the process hearing a few Common Poorwills. After driving to the Amphitheater parking lot I heard several Whiskered Screech-Owls in the canyon, and some barking that might have been an Elf Owl, but no Whip-poor-wills sounded off.
There was one Common Ground-Dove over I-10 on the way to Madera/Florida Canyons. At Florida Canyon - Bell's Vireo (at nest), Verdin, Varied Bunting, Western Tanager, Black-throated Sparrow, Rock Wren (heard), Lucy's Warbler. At Florida Wash on the approach to Madera Cyn: Bell's Vireo, Swainson's Hawk over the grasslands, Black-throated Sparrow, Ash-throated Flycatcher and it was already 88 degrees down in the desert here, still early morning. At the nature trail off Proctor Road in Madera Cyn - Acorn and Arizona Woodpeckers, Mexican Jay families, Hutton's and Plumbeous Vireo, Western Wood-Pewee building a nest, and Sulfur-bellied Flycatcher. At Santa Rita Lodge feeders: Lesser Goldfinch, Mexican Jay, Blue Grosbeak, Broad-billed/Black-chinned/?Broad-tailed? Hummingbirds and the rest of the usual suspects.
Having consumed much of the viable birding day in Madera, I went back to Tucson and secured a hotel room for the night. The highlight of the birding for the day was a night expedition into the Patagonia Mountains via Harshaw Cyn Road with Matt Brown as a guide. On the drive up we were startled by a Mountain Lion across the road my first and with such an elusive species perhaps my last. Matt had previously scouted for Mexican Whip-poor-will so after stopping for the Mountain Lion we headed straight to that spot. Common Nighthawk was one of the first birds, in a lone fly-over, and before long Common Poorwill and Whiskered Screech-Owls were sounding off. Two separate Mexican Whip-poor-wills began singing after some coaxing, and via some careful spot lighting one was seen very well. This was USA #691 and one that I would not have been able to find without Matt (or without a lot more time spent scouting canyons at night). This is, after all, the deal with being at the higher 600's - all the easy birds have been found so I expect new life birds to take extra effort. This was also the fourth life bird for the trip, with my three main targets found and the Buff-collared Nightjar an unexpected bonus.
The nature trail from Madera Picnic Area up through Amphitheater was slower than previously but still held Painted Redstart, Mexican Jay, Bridled Titmouse, Bewick's Wren, Magnificent Hummingbird, Dusky-capped Flycatcher, Ruhr's-crowned Sparrows Western Wood-Pewee and the pair of Sulphur-bellied Flycatchers occupying the area at the bridge. Acorn Woodpecker but no Arizona - Arizona's had been putting in a strong showing on this trip. The large immature "Cooper's Hawk" present again - narrow white tip to tail and no obvious Goshawk markings but it certainly looked like a very large Cooper's. Walking down to Santa Rita Lodge the biggest surprise at the feeders was a Band-tailed Pigeon, experiencing some difficulty getting seed simply by its size and dwarfing the White-winged Doves. Otherwise: Mexican Jay, Acorn Woodpecker, Turkey flock, Black-chinned and Broad-billed Hummingbirds, Lesser Goldfinch, the evil Brown-headed Cowbirds, Blue Grosbeak.
Finally I headed out, grabbed an early lunch and headed right up to the top of Mount Lemmon with minimal (and unproductive) intermediate stops - it was after all the middle of the day. Weather to the east looked stormy over the White Mtns and NM but the radar confirmed no rain in the Chiricahuas or any closer. This must be the harbinger of the monsoon season but south-east AZ was still totally dry during my 10 day visit. Steller's Jay, Mountain Chickadee, Yellow-rumped (Audubon's) Warbler and heard Cordilleran Flycatcher at the top. A hundred yards further down House Wren, Spotted Towhee, Yellow-eyed Junco, a skulking but singing Orange-crowned Warbler, Hermit Thrush, Broad-tailed Hummingbird but no Olive Warbler. Red-tailed Hawk this time at mid elevations and fly-over Common Raven (ID assumed).
Based on an AZNMBirds post about a "preferred" Buff-collared Nightjar perch at a concrete fan-shaped water collector I went in search of said structure and found it during waning daylight on my last night's birding in the Tucson area. A more direct route would be to follow the meandering track that heads west out of site 6. The water source was surrounded by barbed wire with one small section down, and I realized once in there that it held a small improvised shelter doubtless used by illegal immigrants on their hike north. There was actually water in the small pool at the base of the collector which drew all sorts of insects, and then bats, to this area. I got there around 7pm and waited three quarters of an hour for the Buff-collared Nightjar to sound off at 7:45. It was clearly changing singing perches and ranging widely, sometimes quite distant, mostly to the west of my spot. Either someone was taping or there were at least two birds - I think taping is quite likely (but see later). I also saw someone with a spotlight wandering around chasing it a little. Eventually it landed in the oak tree on the west side of the water collector - one of the preferred trees - and sang although I could not locate the bird by sight. Ironically the spot-lighter helped me out since they flushed the bird and I saw it in silhouette head north. Shallow wing beats, rounded wings with "fingers", and a long tail. Combined with the Mexican Whip-poor-will of the previous night, an excellent two night's birding. This occurred at 8:05pm and the bird appeared to stop singing at that point. I had decided to leave once I saw it anyway, but this was good timing. I found a track that headed out through the grassland heading away from the structure, which connected to primitive campsite 6 and an easy walk back to the car.
Based on the in-flight structure of the Nightjar I think it's very likely that this was the bird that flew up Proctor Road past me on Weds evening but I hadn't seen any in-flight Poorwills for direct comparison.
On the walk back to the car I heard multiple Common Poorwills and once or twice thought I might get one on the dirt road. My flashlight turned up nothing. I had walked all the way out to the tarmac canyon road but a car headed down canyon made me turn back to avoid walking down the shoulder-less road in the dark. The car turned out to be birders going back down Proctor Rd for a second listen, but by dumb luck this gave me the chance to find a second Nightjar - one was singing in the trees that are in the creek bed downstream of the Proctor Road crossing and I found it because I had chosen to walk back to the car using the narrow tarmac trail that leads to the lot rather than the road. Clearly not a tape since the song was at times hesitant and at others just a single "chuck" type call. It also sounded a little different to the other Buff-collared Nightjar. This was also obviously the same bird I had sound off once before sunset on Wednesday. Since the bird's song doesn't carry all that far this bird might have been overlooked for a while, or might have been the individual that was found in Florida Wash previously. Subsequent sightings reported to the AZ list confirmed that this was a second male Buff-collared Nightjar and one that I actually found myself. Very cool and a great way to close out the se.AZ leg of the trip. A minor freak-out due to a rustling in the leaves right below me in the pitch dark turned out to be a Skunk which was amenable to us going our separate ways without any conflict. But that's certainly the closest I've been to a Skunk, and as close as I ever wish to get to one.
Ten minutes at the Amphiteater Parking lot up-canyon in Madera produced one or two distant Whiskered Screech-Owls and nothing more. Two miles along the dirt Box Canyon Rd didn't put any Poorwills in my headlights either.
Overnight Days Inn at Congress and I-10 which was a little of a step down from the previous night in terms of amenities but was a lot cheaper ($40+tax) than the Rodeway Inn quoted me ($69) when I did a walk-in. Perfectly comfortable and better situated for braving later day rush-hour traffic.
Other birds along Sycamore Creek were: Yellow Warbler, Bell's Vireo, Violet-Green Swallow, probable Costa's Hummingbird, Kingbird sp., Raven sp., Red-tailed Hawk.
Having done well along the creek I took the road a few miles west to the turn-off for Mt Ord. The road rapidly turns to dirt and this is the point where I had my life Gray Vireos several years ago. Since there's no pull-off and it was a weekend I actually went further on to a bona fide pull-off. Here I found two Juniper Titmice, Northern Mockingbirds, and heard Black-chinned Sparrows singing from the hillside. Northern Mockingbirds were all over the place on this hillside.
After reaching the forest boundary line, predominantly pine, there were Bewick's Wrens, Plumbeous Vireos, Western Tanagers - mostly familiar birds seen in canyons further to the south-east.
On the way down I had pretty reasonable luck: two Western Scrub-Jays, Black-chinned Sparrow, Scott's Oriole and a singing Gray Vireo. Three of these were "trip birds". By the time I'd got back to the paved part of the road near AZ-88 I'd declared the trip over - cumulative sleep-deprivation had caught up with me and I dedicated the couple of extra hours to making it less obvious that a significant part of the 2,200 miles I had on the rental car had been via dirt roads. Car return was no problem (Dollar were efficient) but my plane was doubly delayed on my way back to PHL.