Friday, October 9, 2015

Life just keeps getting better : September in the Sky Islands of Southeast Arizona & Southwest New Mexico

The days of September continued to be hot so we gravitated to higher elevations. We continued to explore the beauty of the sky islands of southeast Arizona and southwest New Mexico. We explored new canyons in the Chiricahua Mountains, took a few road trips to bird the Huachuca Mountains to the west of us and traveled southeast to the Peloncillo Mountains of New Mexico.

We hope you enjoy some of the photos that attempt to capture the incredible natural world around us:-)

We experienced the Blood Moon and Lunar Eclipse with our friends at Rusty's RV Ranch in Rodeo, NM

The Blood moon already in partial eclipse rising over the Peloncillo Mountains

The Blood Moon setting the next morning over the Chiricahua Mountains
Butterflies  and bugs everywhere....
Bordered Patch Butterflies
Spring Azures and a Bordered Patch Butterfly
California Sister
Common Buckeye
Pipevine Swallowtail

Monarch Butterfly

Cool Caterpillar 
Great-crested Grasshopper

Horse Lubber Grasshoppers

Visitors at Rusty's in the San Simon Valley

This Belted Kingfisher was feeding at Rusty's pond in the middle of the San Simon Valley....not a likely place to see a Kingfisher....probably coming into the area for the winter. They winter in the southwest to northern South America.

The White-crowned Sparrows have started arriving for the winter.
Adult male White-crowned Sparrow

The resident Gertie the Goose - mascot at Rusty's- she and Bob became very attached
MacGillivray's Warblers are migrating through to Mexico and Panama.
MacGillivray's Warbler taking a dip at Rusty's
Red-shafted Northern Flicker outside our window at Rusty's. These are year-round residents.

Vermillion Flycatchers are a spectacular resident of the area.
Adult male Vermillion Flycatcher
We are still seeing Hummers.....

Female Broad-tailed Hummingbird
This immature or female Lucifer's Hummingbird was a new bird for us. It appeared at the feeders outside our window...we know it is a Lucifer's because of the face pattern and curved bill.

This immature Magnificent Hummingbird was a challenge to id...we originally thought we were looking at an immature Blue-throated Hummingbird because of the white tips on the tail. We ended up learning that the green on the back is diagnostic of an immature Magnificent Hummingbird. Both species can spend the entire year.

This Rufous Hummingbird actually drove off the Magnificent Hummer.

The Rufous victor!
We enjoyed exploring the Peloncillo Mountains of New Mexico. There is a road south of Rodeo near the Mexico border that goes across the Peloncillo Mountains. The road is called Geronimo Trail,  and we spent a few days birding it. 

We came upon a large group of sparrows that looked different than any we had seen before. We needed the help of a local sparrow expert to identify these birds. It ended up that these birds were the ammolegus subspecies of the Grasshopper Sparrow in their fall plumage: rufous above and buffy overall.  Grasshopper Sparrows come into their richest plumage in the fall.
Grasshopper Sparrow
Botteri's Sparrow are known to breed in this area but winter in Mexico.
Botteri's Sparrow

Cassin's Vireos breed in the northwest all the way into Canada and migrate south to Mexico for the winter. This was one the first Cassin's Vireos we had seen migrating through.
Cassin's Vireo

Chipping Sparrows are year round residents. It seems like we have been seeing more lately, maybe because the northern populations are migrating through to Mexico.

Red-naped Sapsuckers are coming back for the winter. This is probably a female since there does not appear to be a white chin, which would indicate a male.

Female Western Tanager loving the berries

It seems like the birds were arriving on a daily basis into the grasslands of the San Simon Valley. Willow Tank is a historic water source for local and migrating birds. The Friends of Cave Creek are working to revive this important bird habitat. The following are some of the birds we have seen there:

Clay-colored and Brewer's Sparrow- these pals provide a great comparison of the two species in the spizella family: Clay-colored on the left with defined cheek patch and Brewer's on the right, plainer and drabber.
Brewer's Sparrow

Clay-colored and Lark Sparrows
Clay-colored Sparrow

Vesper Sparrow

Lark Buntings have arrived for the winter
Lark Bunting with happy feet :-)
Savannah Sparrow taking a bath
Drying off...
What a scruffy muffin:-)
Immature male Vermillion Flycatcher- you can see the red starting to come in on his head
Immature Swainson's Hawk will be heading all the way down to Argentina soon for winter.
White-faced Ibis stopping for a drink on their migration south to Mexico
Spotted Sandpiper
Desert Box Turtle
Desert Horned Lizard
The Chiricahua Mountains continue to amaze us! We walk South Fork on a regular basis and had not heard or seen an Elegant Trogon there for  months.....

We came upon this female Elegant Trogon feeding on the berries near the trail.
We think this is a Hammond's Flycatcher. They breed in the northwest part of the continent. This bird has either arrived here for the winter or is on its way south to Mexico or Central America.

Hermit Thrush are year round residents. This bird was enjoying the same berries that the Elegant Trogon was eating.

Sonoran Mountain King Snake- this snake is protected in Arizona. Little is known about this handsome species. It feeds on lizards and small rodents. It is not venomous.

Sulphur Canyon in the Chiricahua Mountains

Immature Gray Hawk: Gray Hawks are not known to historically breed in the Chiricahua Mountains. This young bird could be moving through or their range could be expanding.
We took a few day trips west to the Huachuca Mountains, another section of the sky islands, to bird Hunter and Ramsey Canyons. The following are some of the wildlife we saw up Hunter Canyon:

This is an immature male Elegant Trogon. We know it is immature because the adult male has a bright green head and upper parts. 
His back side is starting to show the green. A female would have a brownish head and upper parts.
The Buff-breasted Flycatcher is a small Mexican flycatcher whose range reaches the U.S. in southern Arizona. The range maps indicate that this bird will probably winter in Mexico.
Hepatic Tanagers breed in Arizona and New Mexico. They winter in southern Arizona and Mexico.
Female Hepatic Tanager
Immature Hepatic Tanager
Hermit Warblers breed in the Pacific northwest. They are migrating through to the mountains of Mexico or Nicaragua.
Immature Hermit Warbler

Lesser Goldfinches are residents of the area.
Male Lesser Goldfinch
Nashville Warblers are migrating south to Mexico and areas in Guatemala and Honduras

You can see the red patch on the top of the Nashville's crown

Immature Olive-sided Flycatcher- you can see the immature's gape at close inspection. They breed in the northern and western parts of the continent. They are passing through to winter in Panama or parts of northern South America.

Orange-crowned Warblers breed in the north and northwest of the continent. These birds could be planning to winter here or travel south to Mexico and Guatemala.
Orange-crowned Warbler 

Painted Redstart is a warbler common to the area. They are residents but may migrate south from Mexico to Nicaragua.
The Slate-throated Redstart typically lives in northwestern and central Mexico. It is occasionally observed in southeast Arizona, southwest New Mexico and west Texas.
We had wonderful views of the rare Slate-throated Redstart!! a first for us...
Another Mexican rarity ....the adorable Rufous-capped Warbler. I think it acts more like a wren than a warbler. 
After bathing.

The Wilson's Warblers are migrating from the northern part of the continent to anywhere south from Mexico to Panama for the winter.
Adult male Wilson's Warbler

Birds seen in Ramsey Canyon
Townsend's Warblers breed in the Pacific Northwest of North America. This bird is heading south to winter anywhere from Mexico to Costa Rica.
Male Townsend's Warbler enjoying a snack
Tufted Flycatchers are typically residents of Mexico south to Bolivia. A pair bred and fledged young in Ramsey Canyon. Most records of these birds in southeast Arizona are in the winter so to have breeding Tufted Flycatchers is very rare.

Sunrise from Rusty's:-)

Rainbow over Rusty's with the Chiricahuas in the background.

The World is Full of Beauty & Wonder,
Turtle & Hawk


  1. Replies
    1. Thank you....obviously we are little nuts for our feathered friends:-)

  2. A Slate-throated redstart and a Rufous-capped warbler!!! That is so cool. Your sightings and your photos are just wonderful. I was thinking about you today and wondering why you hadn't posted -- and went to your site and found that you have been posting, I just haven't been receiving notifications. I have a lot of catching up to do. :-)

    1. Thanks for your encouraging words...we have had such an incredible experience in SE AZ! Glad you checked in...not sure what happens to the google blog email follow ups...I think the link has broken for quite a few folks.
      We are heading up to Pt Reyes for the last 2 weeks of October. Where are you guys off to?

    2. Oh, Point Reyes! Another place we love. We just arrived in the Sierra Nevadas after several weeks in Ashland. We're traveling down 395 and heading to Florida for the winter again this year. Sure wish we could catch up with you guys and do some birding together! Wishing you wonderful travels. :-) Laurel

  3. Be careful heading south....we just missed the mudslides coming up the Grapevine (I-5) by 1 day!!!

    I know our paths are going to cross one of these days!!