Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Part 2- The Mountains & Grasslands of SE Arizona

We're back with Part 2. I apologize for the length of the previous blog. Our intention going forward is to blog more often.

It is probably obvious but we fell in love with the expansive wide open spaces and mountain views of SE Arizona. The weather is also pretty amazing - cool nights & warm days:)

We visited canyons, grasslands and agricultural areas. We even had great birds right in our RV park.

The canyons are amazing- we visited Ft. Huachuca which contains both Huachuca & Garden Canyons. In addition we visited nearby Ramsey, Miller, Carr & Hunter Canyons. The mountain peaks of these canyons comprise the sky islands of SE Arizona. Each canyon has a different feel.

Fort Huachuca is an active U.S. Army post that is open to birders, though you must present a U.S. driver's license or passport at the main gate to gain entry.

Huachuca Canyon

Huachuca Canyon has a sycamore-lined stream with juniper, oak and pine. The dirt road travels from 4,900 to 6,500 feet in elevation.

We found this pair of Hepatic Tanagers at the lower picnic area. This bird is an uncommon summer resident of pine-oak forest of the southwest. They rarely stay the winter in Arizona. It would appear that this pair were one of those rarities that over wintered.

Very successful at feeding

Female Hepatic Tanager: the female and male Hepatic Tanager seem to stay in close contact while feeding with continuous low key calls.

We found this Rufous-crowned Sparrow in the hills around the lower picnic area singing away--- notice the eye ring- this is resident.

The Northern Pygmy Owl was our nemesis bird until we met these amazing people on the trail, Terry & Denuta from Irvine Ca. We met at the lower canyon picnic area at the beginning of the day. They later left to go up the canyon to find the Montezuma's Quail. On their way back down to their next destination they stopped to let us know they had heard and seen a pair of Northern Pygmy Owls!!! When we told them that was our nemesis bird they said  follow us & took us up to the spot where the owls had a nest in a Sycamore tree. Our hearts were beating so fast- there they were calling!! We even got to see them mating- the photo is a bit blurry but worth sharing.

This little owl is only 7"- described as tiny but tough, they are active by day.

Here they are mating.

After the deed is done:)

The Dusky Flycatcher is another empidonax flycatcher. We think this is a Dusky Flycatcher because of the bill and tail lengths. The range maps indicate it is migrating north to breed in the Pacific Northwest.

Another first- this Buff-breasted Flycatcher was calling from a low branch of a Sycamore tree in upper Huachuca Canyon. It just hung around and provided us with amazing views. This is another one of the empidonax flycatchers, but, unlike its Dusky & Hammond's cousins there is no doubt about its identification. It is usually scarce in the summer in southeast Arizona, so we were very lucky to get such great views:)

Look at that bill!

We found this Dusky-capped Flycatcher in the Huachuca Canyon upper canyon area- it is very identifiable by its mournful call. The call and the crest help to make the identification a bit easier than other flycatchers. It is similar in appearance to the Ash-throated Flycatcher.

We even had some great views of Pronghorn Antelope that live on the Fort.

Ramsey Canyon

Ramsey Canyon is a Nature Conservancy Property. The high canyon walls of Ramsey Canyon, with its east-west orientation and perennial stream create a cool environment supporting more than a dozen rare species. There have been 14 species of hummingbirds recorded in Ramsey. Unfortunately, we were too early for the majority of migrating hummingbirds but had a wonderful time:)

We saw a little House Wren outside the TNC visitor center in Ramsey Canyon. It definitely wanted us to know it owned the place. This species is typically a summer visitor.

We encountered this singing Canyon Wren on our stroll up the canyon. These wrens have a beautiful song and are residence of the area.

We were thrilled to get great views of this male Arizona Woodpecker- they have beautiful chocolate brown backs. They are considered uncommon residents of oak and pine-oak woods in canyons near the Mexican border.

Blue skies heading up Ramsey Canyon. 

We could hear the call of the Townsend's Solitaire before we finally located it sitting in the trees. Their whistle can sometimes sound like a Northern Pygmy Owl to me. They are common in juniper woods and winter where it can find a good supply of berries. They can be either a resident or winter visitor. Many will head north to Canada to breed.

Painted Redstarts are one of the early warblers to show up in the region to breed. We saw quite a few Painted Redstarts in a number of different locations flitting about and fanning their tails.  According to my Kaufman book they nest on the ground!!! The male and female look the same- flashy:)

Miller Canyon

Miller Canyon road and trail take you from 5,000 to 6,800 feet up a deep, steep-sided canyon of pine-oak woodland. It still bears the scars of the 2011 wildfire. Attractions include the forested canyon, trails and Beatty's hummingbird feeding stations.

We parked and walked into the woods near the parking area and startled this Sharp-shinned Hawk-immature. Notice the streaking on the chest which indicates an immature bird. The range map indicates that this bird is probably going to be heading north to breed....but I am not sure if an immature might simply hang out and skip breeding?

Spotted Towhee- we heard but rarely saw them. The range map indicates they are residents of the area. If that is the case they sure are skulkers.

Montezuma's Pass

We visited Montezuma's Pass located near the border of Mexico. It is part of the Coronado National Monument, in reference to the travels of the Spanish explorer Coronado. The pass provides amazing views of the San Pedro Valley, San Rafael Valley and south into Mexico. You can see the border wall in the photo below.

This Rock Wren sat on top of the picnic tables at the top of Montezuma's Pass. They have the greatest little dance "bobbing" up & down as they call. They nest inside rock crevises.

Female Black-chinned Sparrow was a new bird for us! Notice no black on the chin indicates a female- the black chin is typically seen on summer males. It appears they winter is this area and will be heading north and west to breed.

Carr Canyon

Carr Canyon- this canyon is served by a winding narrow road that provides auto access to high-elevation birds at 7,400 feet. The road starts at 5,000 feet and climbs along single-lane sharp switch-backs. We had no idea what a wild ride we were in for....but we made it!!

Our first stop was the Reef Townsite Campground. Mexican Jays were there to greet us. They were very gregarious and seemed to follow us around. The Mexican Jays are residents.

We think we heard a pair of Northern Pygmy Owls but did not find them. We did hear and see a Cooper's Hawk calling from the pine trees.

What a treat- these Yellow-eyed Junco were new birds for us. Look at that yellow eye! They are residents of mountain forests and very skulky.

Las Cienegas

Las Cienegas National Recreation Area was created by the BLM in 1988 by the acquisition of several large ranches. In 2010 the BLM started working to restore the grasslands to their original condition by removing much of the mesquite that invaded the arroyos during the cattle boom years. Several areas are being used to reintroduce the endangered black-tailed prairie dogs. Varied habitats include a perennial stream with cottonwood-willow riparian strips, cienegas (small marshlands), juniper-oak woodlands, native bunch grasses and mesquite bosques. 

Side note- we learned that the San Pedro River was originally a series of cienegas or small marshlands that would fill and drain with the seasonal rains until man began to divert the water and channelize the river....learn something new everyday.

The Black-throated Sparrow is a resident and one of our favorites. Such a striking bird.

Lark Sparrows were sprinkled along-side the roadside. They are in the region to breed.

We took a walk down Empire Gulch where we found lots of birds & butterflies:

Red-naped Sapsuckers winter in area and migrate north to breed.

Swallow-tailed Butterfly

White-breasted Nuthatch,  a common resident, with a Vermillion Flycatcher male in the background

The identification of this Eastern Phoebe had us stumped.... we knew it was a flycatcher but we were not familiar with the exact species.....we ended up calling it a juvenile Black Phoebe (we could not figure out why there would be a juvenile at this time of year but we could not figure it out). Later that week Bob was paging through his bird identification book looking at some other flycatchers and came across the Eastern Phoebe......There it was... that was the bird we had seen in Empire Gulch! That is one of the many reasons I love birding..... sometimes you might not find the right answer but with time and experience, answers and hints keep appearing:) This is a bird of the eastern part of the continent.

This Bewick's Wren came out to investigate. It is a resident of the region.

We found this Great Horned Owl in the Oak Canyon portion of Las Cienegas because the Ruby-crowned Kinglets and other birds were mobbing it:) He is a resident of the continent.

Sierra Vista EOP

Sierra Vista Environmental Operations Park (aka Waste Water Treatment Plant) - The City of Sierra Vista overhauled its large wastewater treatment facility and attempted to make it environmentally friendly welcoming birds and birders alike. The day we visited we experienced marginal conditions due to high winds but we did see a number of species. As a result of the wind I did not take many photos.

There were a number of Horned Larks. These beautiful birds are residents.

This Peregrine Falcon is a regular- apparently the falcon has learned that when the birding groups have their bird walks they stir up lots of birds so when he sees people he comes out to hunt:) Pretty smart!

Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area

Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area (formerly Hyannis Cattle Company)- this 1,400 acre site was purchased by the Arizona Game & Fish Department in 1997, primarily to protect the major Sandhill Crane roost. The pond size varies with runoff. In addition to the roosting Sandhill Cranes in the winter  the area attracts wintering owls and migrants.

This Great Egret was a rarity for the area. It usually winters south of the border. Egret populations were decimated in the early 1900s by feather hunters. Their recovery has been in large part due to the efforts of the National Audubon Society, which had been newly formed around the early 1900s.

There were so many sparrows! This a a view of the southwestern variety of a Savannah Sparrow. The southwestern variety may not have any yellow on their face; whereas the Savannah Sparrows we are accustomed to seeing have yellow. This sparrow typically winters in this area and south of the boarder. The range maps show that they could also be a summer visitor as well in a small pocket in SE Arizona.

We caught the end of the winter roosting of the Sandhill Cranes- what a treat! They have a substantial winter population here at Whitewater Draw. The community of Willcox has an annual birding festival in January to celebrate their presence.

It was a warm afternoon and many of the cranes were enjoying a bath:)

Northern Shovelers- look at the mud on his bill from scooping his bill in the mud to feed:) They should be getting ready to head north to breed.

Northern Harrier female hunting- they are winter residents.

The distinguishing white band aids in identification as can be seen below.

Great Horned Owl is hiding in the rafters of the barn

Quail Ridge RV Resort

We had great birds surrounding us at our temporary home at Quail Ridge RV Resort.

A pair of Cactus Wren were living outside our trailer. These residents seem to have adapted to human presence by feeding on the insects on the front ends of the visiting cars and trailers. 

This stunning Pyrrhuloxia male was living around us as well. Most of the birds around the RV park are residents of the region.

Lark Sparrows were living all around us- they are summer visitors here to breed.

This Ocotillo blooming in the hills and washes was one of our favorite sights:)

All and all - an amazing trip!!! We met wonderful folks and immersed ourselves in the incredible beauty all around us:)

We do have a wish list for our next visit: Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Grace's Warbler, Rufous-capped Warbler, Goshawks nesting in Miller Canyon............

Caio for now,

Turtle & Hawk

PS- Bob ended up coming down with a terrible flu & was in bed for 10 days. He hung in there and came out in one piece:)

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