Friday, August 28, 2015

Birds, Bugs & Blooms in the San Simon Valley (Rodeo NM/ Portal AZ) (Part 1) : Birds & Critters

We continue to explore the Rodeo, New Mexico and Portal, Arizona areas of the San Simon Valley. The area around Rodeo consists of high desert scrub and grasslands, while Portal is located in the confluence of the Cave Creek riparian zone. Most locals refer to the area as Rodeo/Portal even though they are in different states.

The San Simon Valley is a broad valley bordered by the Chiricahua Mountains on the west and the Peloncillo Mountains on the east. Prior to introduction of agriculture and grazing the valley actually had a river known as the San Simon River that flowed north to south. Strangely enough, it is still shown on the maps but is nowhere to be seen in person.

Please enjoy some of the photos taken while exploring the area.

The view driving up to Rucker Canyon: a more southern access into the Chiricahua Mountains from the San Simon Valley

We had a couple of big rains the last week of July and had incredible views of  Wynn Falls from the Herb Martyr Rd in Cave Creek Canyon.

We had the great fortune to see a nesting pair of Thick-billed Kingbirds. This was a new bird for us. These birds typically breed in Mexico.
Note the yellow crown on the top of the head- very few of our bird reference books even mention this
It seems like this was one of the last Ash-throated Flycatchers we saw. One of the benefits of staying in an area over a long period of time is to experience the seasonal transitions. We were able to witness the full breeding cycle of the Ash-throated Flycatcher from nest building to fledging the last of their young.
We continue to enjoy seeing the hummers out on the trail and at the feeders. The feeders definitely provide a better opportunity to study some of the individuals' characteristics and get photos to study later. The juvenile and female Hummingbirds are a challenge to identify because of the similarity of markings across species.

The Black-chinned Hummingbirds are one of the most common in the high desert. 

A young Black-chinned male- note the purple gorget forming on the throat
These agave blooms and stalks were popping up all over the desert in response to monsoon rains providing food not only for Hummingbirds but for insects as well.
One of the characteristics of the Black-chinned Hummingbird is the length of its bill.
A male Blue-throated Hummingbird out on the trail. We tend to see and hear the Blue-throated Hummingbirds in riparian habitat...not so much at the feeders. The Blue-throats are one of our biggest hummingbirds at 5 inches.

Immature male Magnificent Hummingbird transitioning into adult plumage

A young male Broad-billed Hummingbird... look how broad the bill is at the base
A view of the back. The blue tail feathers are an identifying characteristic.
Ahh at last an adult male Broad-billed colorful....

A young male Costa's Hummingbird...note the purple coming in on the throat and the top of the head.

Outside our door at Rusty's RV Park in Rodeo....

The Rufous Hummingbirds....once they find your feeders they are fierce protectors of their turf, fighting off other hummingbirds from trying to come in and take a drink. Bob originally had 4 feeders in the tree outside our window but added a fifth to try and give some of the other species a chance to get a drink :-)

Young Rufous Hummingbirds; it is very difficult to tell the difference between an immature Rufous male and an adult female.

The stunning adult male Rufous Hummingbird

Once the monsoon rains begin, the valley floor grasslands come alive...birds and insects everywhere!

Typically, 10 months out of the year, you will never see or hear certain species of the grassland sparrows. Once the monsoon season hits, Botteri's and Cassin's Sparrows start singing and establishing breeding territories.

These Botteri's Sparrows were singing their hearts out- they are here to breed and take advantage of the life giving monsoons.
Cassin's Sparrows are differentiated from other grassland sparrows by the streaking on their flanks.

We even got views of Grasshopper Sparrows on our way into Rucker Canyon. Note the yellow lores on the head to distinguish it from a Botteri's Sparrow.
The Black-throated Sparrows must be on their 3rd or 4th brood! Unlike other grassland sparrows, Black-throated Sparrows are fairly common and easy to see.
The Lark Buntings are starting to migrate in for the winter. We are seeing flocks of 10-20 birds at a time. Many of the birds are still in breeding plumage but changing quickly.
This is a blurry photo of the male Lark Bunting. They are striking to see in flight with their large white wing patches.
Some birds are migrating through.....

We are seeing large flocks of Lark Sparrows. Our bird books indicate they will winter in Mexico.
 And those that live year round in the grassland...
The Scaled Quail

This is a male American Kestrel. You can tell it is a male by the blue-gray wings. The female's wings are rufous-brown with black bars. They are the smallest and most colorful North American falcon.
Swainson's Hawks will migrate a distance of more than 5,000 mile to the pampas of Argentina!

Young Swainson's Hawk at rest
Young Swainson's Hawk in flight
Adult Swainson's Hawk in flight
Adult Swainson's Hawk at rest
Birds of the Canyons...

We are always listening and looking for Bridled Titmice...they usually have a variety of birds feeding and traveling with them and can be a great way to see unusual migrants.

Bridled Titmouse

Young Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
A Black-throated Gray Warbler
An adult and young Grace's Warbler feeding in the pines.
Female or immature Grace's Warbler
Townsend's Warbler
It seems like where you see Townsend's you will find Hermits. 
Male Hermit Warbler

Mexican Chickadee
Pygmy Nuthatch
Warbling Vireo
Plumbeous Vireo eating a bug
Nashville Warbler
Hairy Woodpecker

We are still seeing some young birds......
Young Painted Redstart...its belly has still not turned red
Young Canyon Wren...look at that short little tail

A young Hermit Thrush

Spotted Owls seem to love riparian areas
We found an adult and young Spotted Owl near the Pinery Campground.

Adult Spotted Owl
Immature Scott's Oriole feeding on an agave bloom

Immature Western Bluebird
Female Western Tanager...the wingbar helps to differentiate from the other female Tanagers
Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher: they are easy to find because of their loud, squeaky call

Immature Sharp-shinned Hawk was calling at the top of the canyon at Rustler Park
Young Cooper's Hawk along South Fork Creek in Cave Creek. We heard there was a family of 4, we saw 2 of the young.

Red-tailed Hawk
Male Montezuma's Quail
Other birds found hanging around feeders......

Male Bronzed Cowbird
This Canyon Towhee was making a call like a Juniper Titmouse....they are not shy and can be found typically in the lower elevations.
We were luck to see this Abert's Towhee. Unlike their Canyon Towhee cousins, the Abert's Towhee tends to be very shy and usually stays well hidden under bushes.
It looks like this Mexican Jay is enjoying peanut butter

Western Scrub Jay
It can be a challenge to differentiate between young Cardinals and Pyrrhuloxia. The Pyrrhuloxia has a much thicker bill and with a different shape.
Immature Cardinal

Male Adult Cardinal

Immature Pyrrhuloxia

Adult male Pyrrhuloxia
Other critters of the canyons.....
Mexican Fox Squirrel
Javelina love acorns among other things....
We saw this baby Bobcat on the east side of the Peloncillo Mountains with 2 other siblings.

The end.........
The World is Full of Beauty & Wonder,

Turtle & Hawk

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