Saturday, July 4, 2015

The Chiricahua Mountains at Last

We have wanted to visit the Chiricahua Mountains of Arizona, specifically the Cave Creek area ever since we had to cancel our trip in 2011 as result of a major fire. While most people would try to avoid Arizona during the summer, local birding experts actually say the best time to bird southeast Arizona is during the "monsoon" season, July through August.

The Chiricahua Mountains are one of the "sky island" mountain ranges. Sky islands are defined as isolated mountains surrounded by radically different lowland environments, such as, in this case, two major deserts. The Chiricahuas include a major watershed with three primary canyons: West Turkey Creek, Rucker, and Cave Creek. Cave Creek is a renowned birding area with great accessibility so we chose to focus our time there.

The Chiricahuas are unique in that you can see birds  normally of much greater latitudes, such as, tanagers and nuthatches. Paradoxically, the close proximity to Mexico and similarity in habitat also affords opportunities to see Mexican specialties such as trogons and flycatchers.

We arrived in late May following our Spring Migration birding tour along the Gulf coast in order to get an opportunity to see the end of nesting season. As it turned out, we learned that nesting for various species continues all summer long:-)

Wildlife of Cave Creek Canyon Riparian Areas

Acorn Woodpeckers: Unlike other woodpeckers, Acorn Woodpeckers are noisy and gregarious with a complex social system. They are known to gather and store acorns by the thousands in holes in certain trees, known as granary trees.
Male Arizona Woodpecker: Arizona Woodpeckers frequent pine-oak woodlands and sycamores in canyons. They occur in the mountains of  southwestern New Mexico and southeastern Arizona.
Ash-throated Flycatcher: A member of the Myiarchus family,  southeast Arizona is unique because it is home to three Myiarchus members. Ash-throated Flycatchers are distinguished from the other two by their call, pale yellow belly, grey chest and rufous under tail.
We saw this yearling Black Bear with its mother and sibling. It appeared they were feeding on roots. This yearling seemed interested in what we were doing.
Blue-throated Hummingbird:  they are plentiful along the riparian zones. At 5 inches, they are one of North America's largest hummingbirds.

Bridled Titmice often forage with other small song birds. As a result, whenever we hear them nearby we pay close attention because you never know who you will see traveling with them.

Canyon Towhees are considered members of the sparrow family.
Cassin's Kingbirds are distinguished from their more common cousin, the Western Kingbird, by their highly visible steel gray chest and white throat patch.
Curve-billed Thrashers have a lot of character and versatility. We see them all along the desert landscape. They are also breeding in our campground and can be heard chattering all day long.
We came upon this rattlesnake sunning across the trail. Once it sensed our presence it slowly slithered away.
Dusky-capped Flycatchers are another member of the Myiarchus family.  They can be distinguished from their cousins by their mournful call, bright yellow belly and brown underside of tail.
Cave Creek Canyon is famous for the presence of nesting Elegant Trogons.
 This female Elegant Trogon had just completed bathing in the creek.
The male Elegant Trogon was watching her very carefully. Male Trogons are often heard more easily than seen due to their loud "bark" like call.

Male Gambel's Quail: our most prolific desert quail.
Male Grace's Warbler: Grace's Warbler is a southwestern U.S. breeding specialist. Having never seen one previously, we were rewarded with great views of parents feeding recently fledged juveniles. 
Recently fledged juvenile Grace's Warbler
Male Hairy Woodpecker: there are not a lot of different woodpecker species in southeastern Arizona. It seems the Hairy Woodpecker fills many of the niches of more northerly woodpeckers.
Hermit Thrush taking on a moth.
The Hermit Thrush won:-)
Juvenile Hutton's Vireo: this bird stumped us as to its identity. We sent photos out to various friends and the consensus was Hutton's Vireo because of the black wing bar and lack of defined spectacles. 

Mexican Jay: The American Museum of Natural History has had a research station located in the Chiricahua Mountains for over 50 years. They have been studying the Mexican Jay population for over 40 years due to their complex social structure.

Intergrade Northern Flicker: We were fortunate enough to come upon an active Flicker nest. Much to our surprise, the parents had different under wing & tail colors: one had red and the other had yellow. Because of the presence of the red "mustache", we thought the "yellow" Flicker was a Gilded Flicker. It turns out, they do not have Gilded Flicker in the Chiricahua Mountains. Instead, they have Flickers known to be "Intergrades". This is a fancy word for hybrid.

Painted Redstart: Like its other counterpart Redstarts, the Painted Redstart flares its tail and wings to scare up insects for feeding.
Juvenile Painted Redstart
Plumbeous Vireo: This vireo species was one of the most prevalent birds along the riparian corridors.....we saw and heard them everywhere!  We were fortunate enough to come across this nesting pair. If you look closely in the photo below you will see the bird had nesting material in its bill. 
This is a nest in progress....

Testing out the new nest

The results....this young Plumbeous Vireo from another nest was calling and calling. We searched and searched and finally found this little guy.....
and he found us.....

Red Satyr
Arizona Sister Butterfly
Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly
Red-spotted Purple Butterfly
Silver-spotted Skipper
Sulfur-bellied Flycatcher is one of those Mexican specialties that you can see in the Chiricahuas.
We later came across a pair obviously nest building.

The Chiricahuas are one of those rare places you can find three breeding species of Tanagers.
Male Summer Tanager
Male Western Tanager
Male Hepatic Tanager

Western Wood-Pewee: they are one of the most prolific flycatchers. This one appears to be nest building.

White-breasted Nuthatch
White-throated Swift: this swift species uses the surrounding canyon walls and caves for nesting. Their calls ring throughout the canyon.
Male Yarrow's Spiny Lizard

Wildlife of Higher Elevations

Mexican Chickadee: loves coniferous and pine-oak forests at high altitude. It is the only breeding chickadee in its range. High elevation Chiricahuas is one of the only places you can find Mexican Chickadees in the U.S.

Pygmy Nuthatch is another conifer specialist typically found further north. It was foraging with the Mexican Chickadees.
Red-faced Warbler is found in the U.S. during breeding season only in southeastern Arizona and southwest New Mexico. This was a new bird for us! Another interesting fact is that it nests on the ground. 

Rufous-crowned Sparrow is locally common, found in habitats of rocky hillsides and steep brushy or grassy slopes.
Adult Swainson's Hawk is the most common hawk we see.
Yarrow's Spiny Lizards are found in rocky canyons and pine-oak zones. It bears live young.
Yellow-eyed Junco is a resident of coniferous and pine-oak slopes generally above 6,000 feet.

Wildlife found on our visit to Paradise, AZ

Male and female Black-headed Grosbeaks with male and female House Finches
Least Chipmunks live in juniper and pine woodlands.
Gambel's Quail
Immature Gray Hawk: we reported this bird on ebird and were notified by the ebird folks that Gray Hawks are not known to breed in the Chiricahua Mountains. This sighting along with a coincidental sighting the day before of an adult indicates Gray Hawks are now breeding in the Chiricahua Mountains.
Male Scott's Oriole is an oriole of the desert and has a song similar to a Meadowlark.

First spring male Scott's Oriole
Female Scott's Oriole
Three White-winged Doves and a cat :-)
Male Arizona Woodpecker contemplating a bath.

Wildlife seen in Portal, AZ
Ash-throated Flycatcher: another member of the Myiarchus family; nests in cavities.
Female Black-chinned Hummingbird: we ran into a retired researcher from the Southwest Research Station and he told us that a recent hummingbird breeding survey found 130 Black-chinned nests along the south fork of Cave Creek.
Male Black-chinned Hummingbird
Male Broad-billed Hummingbird: found in desert canyons and low mountain woodlands.
Adult Black-throated Sparrow in a blooming Soaptree Yucca
Immature Black-throated Sparrow
Cactus Wren is the largest North American wren and sings all year long.
Immature Curve-billed Thrasher: the identification of this bird stumped us. The immature plumage differs from the adult with a shorter and straighter bill and triangular spotting on the chest. Coincidentally, the immature plumage is almost identical to that of a Bendire's Thrasher, hence our confusion.
Male Hooded Oriole competing with honeybees for jelly:-)

Female Lazuli Bunting: this bird must have been a late migrant through the area since they do not typically nest here.
Male Magnificent Hummingbird: a large hummingbird of Mexican highlands that occurs in limited areas of the southwest U.S.
Female Summer Tanager meets female House Finch...

Thick-billed Kingbird: full-time resident of the Pacific Coast of Mexico; found in limited areas in the southwest U.S. during breeding season. It breeds along permanent streams, especially where sycamores and cottonwoods grow.

Regal Horned Lizard

Wildlife seen in Rodeo, NM

Our RV park is located in Rodeo, New Mexico at an oasis called Rusty's RV Ranch. Our surrounding landscaping includes ornamental trees, a beautiful pond, the surrounding desert and multiple mountain ranges. To us it is heaven on earth:-)

Male Blue-winged Teal: this little fella' skipped spring migration because of a wing problem. He is now part of the domestic duck community at the pond. 

Female domestic goose: this goose was the last remaining member of an original flock of 12 geese living on the pond. The other 11 were eaten (we think) by a coyote. Consequently, she sought companionship with human beings, specifically men. Rusty, the owner of the RV Ranch, felt so sorry for her she asked her dad to go into town and find a male goose companion, which he did:-)
Our neighbor Scaled Quail: a large quail known as the "cottontop", due to its white-tipped gray crest.
They are very shy.
First spring male Bullock's Oriole: we had breeding Bullock's Orioles right next to our trailer:-)
Burrowing Owl: we saw this owl alongside the road. We reported the sighting to a New Mexico Burrowing Owl conservation group who sent out a request for information on any sightings. This species is in decline due to loss of habitat.
Our new favorite flower: the Soaptree Yucca

Wildlife found down south at San Bernardino NWR & Slaughter Ranch AZ

The San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge is located south of the Chiricahua Mountains, along the Mexican border near the town of Douglas, Arizona. The refuge was established in 1982 to protect water resources and provide habitat for endangered native fish.

Previously known as the San Bernardino Ranch in the San Bernardino Valley, it is significant for its association with the beginning of cattle ranching in southern Arizona and northern Mexico over 100 years ago. The ranch land and valley are part of the headwater region of the Yaqui River.

Black-tailed Gnatcatcher is a desert resident partial to washes.
Botteri's Sparrow: a grassland sparrow of the desert landscape. This was only the second Botteri's Sparrow we had ever seen.

Tropical Kingbird: there was a pair nesting in this area.
Male Varied Bunting: a full-time resident of Mexico found in limited areas of the southwest U.S. during breeding season. This was our first time seeing this spectacular bird.

Female Varied Bunting

Parent Great Horned Owl
Juvenile Great Horned Owl
The immature Vermillion Flycatcher below may turn into ....
....a spectacular male Vermillion Flycatcher
Male Yellow Warbler: these warblers were everywhere!

The World is Full of Beauty & Wonder,

Turtle & Hawk

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