Sunday, May 23, 2010

Arizona, first pass

I turned west and into Arizona through Mule Creek, then south through York and Shelden. The route was beautiful, but the birding ops were few. I cut east back into New Mexico and had a very good stop at the Virden Bridge. You had to stay on the pavement, but the view was from up high and the area was very birdy. Got a nice look at a Lucy's Warbler, they always catch me by surprise by being so un-warbler-yellowish. Best bird was a sitting Northern Goshawk showing the fine barring in the tail. Also hummers and quail, but not Harlequins.

From there I passed through Lordsburg, grabbed lunch, and went on to the Lordsburg Playa. That was really good for shorebirds, got several NM tics, especially happy since I added a Bronzed Cowbird at the Interstate Rest Stop. Further west and south to follow the state line toward Portal. Hung out there around the store, got several AZ tics just being mellow and following the crowds, then headed out past the campgrounds along Cave Creek and uphill. Made several stops, a long one at the SW Research Station, another to hike some woods where Montezuma Quail were sometimes seen, and then I found a sweet unofficail campground along the creek and settled in for the night.

Wednesday, April 21

Back down early through Portal after parking and walking the South Fork road to the end before sunrise. Pretty much all the well known and juicy birding spots in SE Arizona have been regulated and signed and fee-ed to extract the maximum pelf from the birders and anyone else with the bad taste or luck to be near them. It's made just stopping the truck to get out and walk around a rigmarole of envelopes and stickers, or not and paranoia. This is partly a result of lots of use, though it doesn't seem more than the first times I went there maybe eighteen years ago. Birders are conspicuous consumers, they want folks to see how expensive their optics are, and they want to brag about how much money they spend and how grateful the locals should be that they've driven their nice cars down and are fueling the local economy (translation: kiss my ass, said nicely). The locals, who can in fact detect arrogance and condescension, are happy to gouge the birders for every possible penny. Locals includes the Forest Service management. I really don't care for the company of most birders, but do occasionally meet some great folks, usually at remote non-hotspots. See the Idaho portion. Most to be avoided are pricey tour groups.

Anyway, back to the state line, keeping track of which side of the road the critters are seen on, many notes to self on the mini-cassette recorder. I was particularly looking for Bendire's Thrasher on the NM side, but could only get definite Curve-bills. Finally found one on a nest in some Cholla, their type habitat. After that it was a long drive through Douglas and Bisbee, very cool mine scenery, glorious geological palette, scary winding roads. Finally got to Sierra Vista so I could check out the legendary Huachuca Mountain canyons. I'd never done that before, always got stuck at Portal or Patagonia, pinned down by great birding.

First stop was Miller Canyon. I wanted to see another Spotted Owl, and it was there in its habitual spot sitting over the trail. I ended up sitting on a rock thirty feet short of it for awhile until some folks came along that knew the drill. All the birding from the ranch on up the trail into the wilderness to the owl was superb. Lots of mountain specialties, most I'd seen in the Chiricahuas, but the best bird was a Hermit Warbler. From there it was further south to the Ash Canyon B&B, Mary Jo Ballator, prop . My timing was good, since it had gotten late in the afternoon. There were no other birders, so she started putzing with arrangements, then sat with me and gave me about an hour lesson on ID details, behavioral quirks, and a little biography. Great way to sit around with at least thirty feeders. Well worth the $5 donation. I went back to the foot of Miller where there's some unofficial parking, finished my evening book on Evo-Devo, and sacked out wondering if I would be visited my Border Patrol or illegals or both. It was neither, went to sleep with the wind whipping about like it had been doing all day.

Thursday, April 22

The night had been chilly and windy. It didn't look auspicious for birding, and after a stop at the Ramsey Canyon TNC preserve which was closed until some ungodly advance hour like maybe 9am (don't they understand the dawn chorus?), I decided to skip other canyons. I'm just reluctant to go on the military base, always have visions of the truck being unpacked and pawed-over, which would take forever. So it was loop north around the mountains and head for Patagonia. Fortunately, I'd picked up a rumor on the listserv regarding Las Cienegas Preserve, BLM, and I wandered around in there managing to find the sweet spot by watching the stream-side vegetation. It really wasn't too far nor too obscure, sorta basic follow-your-nose. It was a wonderful place, running water and a gallery forest of immense cottonwoods. Very good birding, Hermit Thrushes, Hepatic Tanagers, mixed warblers, and several woodpecker species.

Into Patagonia and a stop at the Paton's yard. The hummers weren't as good a show as I've seen there, but the other birds on the ground and in the abutting yards were better than usual. From there I went on down to the TNC preserve. They had better hummers there, including a Blue-throat. There was a young Quebecois woman minding the shop, and I had one of my infatuations. They can light up a day. Walked a lot of the trails and found good birds, some on brief stops of passage, so the timing was good. Further south I made a stop at Patagonia Lake State Park to check for waterfowl, but couldn't linger without paying the full day fee. They should have a one hour price for rambling birders. On south and the turn back north at Nogales and I got to Madera Canyon in early afternoon. Paid for two days camping, then walked a trail over to Madera Kubo B&B and out-waited the Flame-colored Tanager. That made the fifth lifer for the trip. Back to the campground as the day turned wet and cold, then snowy.

Friday, April 23

Madera Canyon with Snow

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

There was more than an inch of snow at dawn, more on the higher elevation hillsides, and the world was enchanted. Note that it was the end of April, fifty miles from Mexico and only moderate elevation. The whole trip from here on was filled with reports from the locals that winter had lasted longer than usual, and the weather was staying colder along with the normal southwestern windiness in spring. I drove down to Continental on the Interstate for food and coffee and wifi at McDonald's. Then back to Florida Wash to look for reported Black-capped Gnatcatcher and a Rufous-capped Warbler. Missed both, and found I'd been up the wrong branch of the wash later. Spent three hors there and did find some good birds as well as getting better acquainted with the place. Finding solace by brute force.

I went back to the campsite to rest and warm up, it had been chilly in the shade in the canyon. Then I went back to the wash after revising my understanding of the topography. Found the right rock dam and other landmarks, but still no target birds. It was also less birdy than the "wrong" side. I had one bird that I never figured out an ID, a larger gray flycatcher, I'm guessing. When I got back to the campground my site had been stolen by a big family, they had removed my permit, and when I found the host he was useless. Did manage to get the last campsite, so called, a parking space with a number by the restroom. I cooled down, and it really didn't matter much since I slept in the truck.

Saturday, April 24

The good part was a calling Whiskered Screech-Owl before dawn. Still in a bad mood, headed north, didn't try the wash again, and ignored California Gulch, as well as skipping a visit with friends in Tucson. I did go up Mt Lemmon, but the birding was rushed because of another punitive fee setup. At least a few pullouts were free, and I snuck twenty minutes in one of the campgrounds. The views and geology were great, and convinced me to get the roadside geology books for each of the western states.

Long drive up to Phoenix, then east past the Superstition Mtns. One spot, an arboretum that had looked promising, was packed full because of an art show, skipped on by, went around Roosevelt Lake which only had a few Western Grebes, and sorta wandered north until I ended up in a unofficial place, maybe a horse camp, in Coconino NF south of Flagstaff. It was very nice, one of those lucky finds, mixed Ponderosa and meadows, fairly birdy, and good variety, The first bird I saw was a Peregrine Falcon perched atop a dead Ponderosa snag.

Sunday, April 25

Colorado River from Navajo Bridge

Good night's sleep, quiet and no lights, chilly morning. There were two lakes between the campsite and Flag, Mormon and Lake Mary. Both ended up being excellent. At first Mormon was too dried up, and distant from the roadway, but as I headed north it got both wetter and closer. And much birdier, ducks and grebes, then blackbirds, including Yellow-headed, and sparrows. At Lake Mary I had a Saw-whet Owl calling from the far side, un-naturally loud across the water. The shoreline trees yielded warblers and finches and sparrows. I added eight AZ tics in two morning hours. Flagstaff was frustrating, gas prices were fixed and inflated, I needed an oil change, and couldn't find a cheap place, I was worried about my brakes, and the roads didn't make sense even with GPS, so I ended up wasting some miles and gallons by leaving on the wrong road north. Finally got straightened out and in a couple of hours made it to Navajo Bridge and the Vermilion Cliffs.

The point of that was to maybe see a California Condor. Once I was on the bridge I started scanning the cliff line on the other side, and finally found a bird that fit. Way off, but unmistakable, and so far that I couldn't see the numbers they all wear, which made it feel more pristine. I was jazzed, and went up to the Navajo jewelry tent and had to tell somebody. The woman says, "O yeah, we had three or four at the base of the bridge a little while ago, they're here every day" Thoroughly jaded. But I felt really good about it since nobody had told me where to look, nobody had seen it first, it was flying, not sitting, and no number. Didn't feel artificial at all, but the bird is still not ABA countable. But it sure is a lifer as far as I'm concerned, sixth for the trip.

Vermilion Cliffs

From there I went west across the Arizona strip, was gonna try some birding and maybe stay in the NF along the road to the North Rim, but all was closed by snow. Started driving north into Utah, brief stop in Cedar City after crossing the ridge by Cedar Breaks Nat Mon (a great place but really high and cold even in summer), and no roads into the back-country were open. Then just blew north and east on the Interstates and ended up sleeping in a rest area maybe sixty miles west of Green River.


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