21 January 2019
When I first got up this morning my intentions were to bird some wetlands near Arivaca. However, along the way I decided why not just drive on to Madera Canyon as its not that much further from the turnoff we need to take to head south on I-19 towards Nogales, Arizona. Of course the decision was enabled by an eBird alert of a rarity – a White-throated Thrush seen in Madera Canyon. So off we went.
When we arrived at the Proctor parking lot it was full except for one spot, which we quickly grabbed. This is a holiday (Martin Luther King birthday) so the parking lot may or may not be filled with vehicles owned by birders out chasing the rare bird. We headed off on the trail towards the Whitehouse Picnic area. The White-throated Thrush has been spotted (by 200 people on 18 January 2019 – Yikes!!!) regularly between the Proctor parking lot and the Whitehouse picnic area.
We met a woman at the start of the trail and I asked if she had seen the bird. She said no not yet (it was about 10:15 am). She said this was her third try and the first time she missed it by a minute and the second time she missed it by five minutes. Such is the life of a person chasing rare birds (timing is everything). So we optimistically continued on the trail. A young man returning to the parking lot with a BIG camera and lens asked if we had seen anything interesting. I told him we hadn’t seen any birds yet (we had just started on the trail). Of course he was only interested in the thrush. He continued towards the parking lot, and we continued up the trail. We did stop at one point and observed some delightful songbirds in a mixed flock: Brown Creeper (First of Year – FOY), Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Townsend’s Warbler, and Bridled Titmouse to name a few. A bit later this same man came racing up the trail towards us and said he had heard the thrush was a short way up the trail. So off we followed in pursuit of the bird. The bird was in a tangle of dead leaves hanging from a limb near the creek. With a little help from Tony (another photographer with a BIG camera and lens), I found the bird. Then Jack got on the well camflouged bird. Score!!! Of course this is a new bird for us re: North American, but we did see the bird in Panama (in 2008) – so no life bird. Still nice to find a North American rarity.
After watching the bird for a short time, we made room for the congregating birders and continued up the trail. I saw some movement and heard a song, but I couldn’t get on the bird. We tried following it. I asked Jack if he had seen the bird as I was thinking it was a Painted Redstart. He said yes, and that he also thought it was the Redstart. Dang. We never did find the bird. Although I must admit I was surprised to remember the bird’s song when I hadn’t heard the bird sing in over two years. Now that is a rarity – remembering the song of a bird I’ve only heard sing once or twice in my life. While I was looking for the bird, a woman told Jack that an Elegant Trogon had been spotted further up the trail and was displaying nicely. So again off we went in mad pursuit. We got to the area where the Trogon was seen, and a guy with his camera sitting in a chair along side the road, asked if we had seen the Trogon down the trail. We said no. He said that Trogon had been here for a while but flew off. We will try again for the bird when we return in four days. We plan to spend a couple of days camping and birding this area.
We did go up the trail further – as far as the Santa Rita Lodge. They have feeders out and you can always find great birds there. A great spot for “armchair” birding. We had several First of Year species come to the feeders: Wild Turkey (23 of them), Pine Siskin, and a Hepatic Tanager. I was happy to get the tanager. That bird isn’t always a reliable ‘show.’
We stayed at the feeder for about 20 minutes then decided we needed to get back to the van, as we still had groceries to buy before heading to Patagonia Lake State Park where we will be camping for the next four nights.
We arrived at the campground around 3:45 p.m. and decided it was time for a shower. The showers here were nice and hot, which I love. The park had put in a number of new cabins and upgraded the bird feeding station at the east end of the campground. There is now a paved path to the feeding station and places to sit and watch the birds. And there are a lot more feeders out. Of course when I got there the birds had already left to roost for the night. Ah, but we (and they) will be back.
22 January 2019
This morning we got up and drove into Patagonia (the town) for breakfast at “Gathering Grounds” a favorite breakfast place. We’ve eaten there before and we were glad the ambience hasn’t changed from its homey style. The food is delightful with locally brewed coffee to top it off.
From there we went to the Paton Center for Hummingbirds, owned and operated by Tucson Audubon. This placed used to be owned by a couple – the Paton’s. They generously welcomed birders to their little haven famous for attracting a diversity of hummingbirds. When the Paton’s passed away the American Bird Conservancy purchased the property to continue the family legacy. The land was subsequently transferred to Tucson Audubon, and they have done major fund-raising to build a new viewing shelter and a large butterfly garden, and also have plans for a public visitor center and administrative space. And, hummingbirds were present: we marveled at three different species of hummingbirds today: Violet-crowned (my favorite), Anna’s, and Broad-billed. We actually had several Violet-crowned Hummingbirds, which are so magnificent and nice to see.
We spent most of the day here, fascinated by the diversity of birds and antics of the agile squirrels figuring out access to and hanging off various feeders. We had intended to go to Patagonia-Sonoita Reserve, owned and managed by The Nature Conservancy. This property adjoins Paton’s. However, unbeknownst to us they are closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, and this being Tuesday – timing is everything. So we found a spot along the road to stop for a peaceful lunch. Being so enthralled by the Paton area we then headed back for another couple of hours of birding.
In all we observed 34 different species at Paton’s. There is a good variety of feeders with escape cover (brush piles) and water features, so a lot of food and desirable conditions for the birds. We even had a rare bird – the Fox Sparrow. A bird not regularly seen in this area. And, with so much bird activity, I went a little crazy with my camera taking a total of 660 photographs.
As we were getting ready to leave we saw a couple looking at the back of our van (various Alaska and Homer bumper stickers and Alaska license plate). We get that a lot – the curiosity with all the bumper stickers we have. It seems everyone is fascinated with Alaska wanting to tell us they have been there or want to go. Or, our favorite question: “Did you drive here.” We stopped and talked with the couple who now live in Tucson but used to teach in the Alaska bush. They know some people from Homer, including Dave and Molly Brann, and Gary Lyon. Small world.
After Paton’s we went into town so I could go to a few art galleries/stores. They really have some nice art by local artists. So, to help the local economy, I had to buy a couple of things – naturally. Then it was back to the campground for another night (or three actually). I found out the campground quiet hours are from 9:00 pm to 8:00 a.m. Oops. We’re usually up by 7:00 a.m. to start morning coffee.
23 January 2019
Today we decided to stay in the campground and take the birding trail at the east end of the lake. It was 32 degrees F. when we woke up so we waited until a little after 9:00 a.m. for a bit more warmth from the sun before beginning birding. When we started walking to the trailhead from our campsite we noticed a lot of other birders out and about too. They couldn’t all be from the campground. They weren’t. Two groups of birders from Green Valley, near Tucson, decided to bird the park today. While I love that more people are out birding, what I don’t like is when you have to share the trail with about 50 other birders. When people get into large groups they spend more time talking than they do birding. I find that highly annoying.
We tried to get ahead of the group but when the birds are out you stop and check them out. I was watching one bird – a wren – that hid behind some down limbs. It had just jumped out into the open when two birders came up and flushed the bird off. Not good. I wanted to give them a piece of my mind, but I kept quiet. Birder etiquette was lacking among many from these two groups.
We did manage to see about 44 different species. We were hoping for the Elegant Trogon, a ‘signature’ bird for the park, but it hasn’t been seen in over a month. Maybe it flew over to Madera Canyon, which isn’t that far as the crow flies. The highlight bird for me was a Cassin’s Vireo – a First of Year bird. I think I have seen this bird before on previous trips to this area, so not a life bird. There aren’t too many life bird left for me in the U.S., except for pelagic birds or rarities – and even then I may have seen them before, like the White-throated Thrush. And as for pelagic birds you have to get on a boat to see them, and well I don’t do well on boats (seasickness).
After birding the east end of the lake, we went back to our campsite and had lunch. We want to go to the Sonoita Creek Nature Preserve tomorrow, which means we need a park permit. So off to the visitor center we went to get our permit. Of course we birded along the way. At one area we had over ten species of birds. The highlight here was twofold: Plumbeous Vireo and Vermillion Flycatcher. I was hoping to get a photo of the flycatcher but it kept moving away from me as it was busy hawking for insects – it needed to get in its last meal of the day.
I am so happy we have electricity because the evenings have been chilly, and the mornings down right cold. Unfortunately, in two days we are headed to Madera Canyon where we will be sans electricity. So the evenings will be cold and the mornings freezing. Now I know why I thought it would be good to get a camper that is fully contained. Blessed Heat. Guess we will have to turn on the van (engine) for heat relief (or to at least melt the ice off the windshield).
24 January 2019
Wow two days in a row where there have been birding trips to the Patagonia Lake State Park Birding Trail. Today we had another group – smaller, with about 10-12 people and two guides. The guides were young and definitely knew their birds – sight and sound. I was quite impressed. They also were able to get the people on the birds fairly quickly – also impressive. We only encountered them at the main feeding station just before the start of the birding trail, as we had other plans today than birding the east end of the lake.
Prior to getting to the trail, however, we did see several great birds in the campground – the Cassin’s Vireo again, and a Black-throated Gray Warbler. We’ve seen the warbler here in previous visits so was nice to see it again. We spent about an hour birding our way to the feeding station and at the feeding station. The highlight at the feeding station was a great view of a beautiful male Lazuli Bunting.
Afterwards we walked back to the van and then drove about two miles to the start of the Sonoita Creek Trail. This is a nice trail, although rocky in places. You don’t get as many birds along this trail (dry upland, riparian) as you do the birding trail (lakeside, riparian), but we still like to do the scenic hike whenever we visit. Bikes are not allowed on the trail, but we saw evidence that someone thought this rule did not apply to them. Yes, I am a stickler for the rules.
We finished the hike several hours after starting. The trail is about 3.0-3.5 miles. They limit the number of people who can access the area, although I’m not sure how many visitors are allowed daily – the small, 10-12 vehicle, parking lot was nearly full. We passed about 10 people.
Oh, and this morning a camper from Florida was leaving and stopped to ask if our plates were Oregon or Alaska. I said Alaska. The guy asked where we lived. I said Homer. Of course he had been to Homer before and lamented that no one was feeding eagles on the Homer Spit anymore and how he is sure that was having a negative effect on the local economy. He said he was one of the photographers who came to take photos of the eagles on the Spit. I kept my mouth shut, no use debating the feeding of Homer eagles issue. He also knew the owner of Hallo Bay – bear viewing. He mentioned he had stayed at their house when they visited. Again, small world as I knew Clint, the owner of Hallo Bay, (he unfortunately recently passed away) from my work on local Sandhill Cranes for the International Crane Foundation.
Tomorrow we head to Madera Canyon, this time to camp and bird. We hope it will be a little warmer at night because we will be without electricity. Guess I need to get out the electric blanket and figure out how it works. Wish me luck.
25 January 2019
Good thing we didn’t want to stay another night or two at Patagonia. We learned yesterday that the campground was booked through at least next week. We are finding that more and more with all the state park campgrounds we like.
We left the campground in the early-morning light (well before the end of quiet hours) and headed into Patagonia to have breakfast again at Gathering Grounds restaurant. Since I get cell phone coverage there I could check emails, etc. Afterwards we went back to the Paton’s Center to satisfy our Hummingbird addiction and spent about two hours checking out the birds. There seemed to be less birds there today than our visit three days ago. “Timing is everything,” as Jack likes to say. We did get to see the Violet-crowned Hummingbird again so that was nice. And today the Gray Squirrels were out in force. We counted 11 of the wily wonders at the various feeding stations.
Our destination for the night is the US Forest Service Bog Springs Campground in Madera Canyon. That was not to be. The campground was full. I was wondering if that might be the case because today is Friday and more people camp on the weekends, or maybe the fact that camping is free (government shutdown) people can stay there longer. Or maybe there are just more people camping nowadays (can’t argue with the need to be out in Nature).
So, we are “primitive camping” down a rocky road (Proctor Road) where there are a number of primitive campsites. We found a great sunny site (#1), which is within walking distance of the great birding trail in Madera Canyon. We parked, had lunch, and then ventured out on the trails. We were hoping to see the Elegant Trogon today. Not to be so will try again tomorrow. While stopped at a Trogon stakeout site a guy pointed out a bird he identified as a Northern Beardless Tyrannulent; but the bird that I saw was a Hammond’s Flycatcher, not the Tyrannulent. Will see if eBird confirms the sighting.
We did walk up to the Santa Rita Lodge feeding stations. The place was packed with people. This area has become quite popular as a birding hot spot – with birders and non-birders alike. I wonder how much bird food the generous lodge owners go through in a day and whether donations (a donation container was on-site) pay for it or not? We did see some good birds, including two First of Year: Blue-throated Hummingbird and a splendid Yellow-eyed Junco. The junco was close so I tried taking a photo of the bird. In all my photos I got everything but the yellow-eyes. Figures.
While we were at the feeding stations, a Coati Mundi appeared. Such a darling little animal. I guess it comes to the area regularly and feeds on the northern most hummingbird feeder (see photos, I’m not kidding). The lodge guy said it had been there three times today alone and emptied the hummingbird feeder each time. The birds seem to ignore it or get out of its way as it wandered the grounds.
Next we walked back down the trail and stopped to where the Elegant Trogon has been regularly spotted. We waited about 15-20 minutes, but it didn’t show. Dang. I spoke with one woman who said it was there earlier but her husband didn’t like the photos he got, so they came back. Another photographer (Mr. “that’s a Tyrannulet”), was still there on our return – at least an hour later. He finally gave up when the low winter sun went behind the mountain and since this is a canyon, it disappears around 4:00 p.m. Luckily, our campsite is beyond the canyon and has the late-afternoon sun still shining at 5:30 p.m. It would be dark and cold in the campground right now, so although we don’t have a toilet close by or a picnic table, we do have sunshine. That means a lot to me. I get cold easily so I always appreciate the sun.
26 January 2019
Surprisingly it wasn’t as cold last night or this morning, although my toes did feel like they could break off if I hit them against something. I should have put on my faux Uggs. After breakfast we headed up the trail in search of more birds. Before we left we spotted two Canyon Towhees (First of Year) at our campsite. Not too shabby. On the trail we did manage to get quick glimpses of the Elegant Trogon. The bird was working the creek hawking for insects.
Further along the trail the Painted Redstart, the bird I was hoping to see most of all, suddenly appeared and we had great views of it. I so love this bird. We watched the bird search for insect along the truck of a juniper tree. Every once in a while the bird would fan its black and white tail. The bird moved around so much however, I could not get a decent photo. SSD (some of you will know what that abbreviation means). But, what a great bird to find. YAY!!!
We continued further up the trail and to the site where the Elegant Trogon has recently been seen eating red berries. At the site was a gentleman from Ontario. This is the guy I mentioned yesterday that had gotten photos of the Trogon, but wanted better photos. His wife told Jack that he had been waiting today for over an hour for the bird to show up. We stopped and waited for about 10 minutes to see if the bird would show but we don’t have much patience for bird stake-outs and continued on to the always ‘birdy’ feeding area at Santa Rita Lodge. We weren’t disappointed. We got to see the Blue-throated Hummingbird again, and then scored with both a female and male Rivoli’s Hummingbird (formerly known as the Magnificent Hummingbird). The Rivoli’s is a rare bird here this time of year. And, the Rivoli’s Hummingbird is a First of Year so I was happy. The Coatimundi made another appearance going to the hummingbird feeder to get his sweet treat, this despite the fact there were probably 20 people within several feet of him getting a photo op.
After a hard day of birding, we treated ourselves to a Klondike Bar (ice cream) at the Santa Rita Lodge gift shop and made our way back down the trail. At the Elegant Trogon spot, the gentleman from Ontario was still waiting for the bird to appear. It had now been three hours since he had set up his camera for “The Photo” of the bird. And people think birders are crazy.
Further down the trail we stopped to check out a mixed flock of birds. A couple, who are birders, stopped and talked to us. The guy asked where we were from. Jack said Homer. He said they love Homer, and he has a cousin there by the last name of Stolzfus or something like that. We said, “Oh, you mean Karl.” He said, yes. Small world again as Karl is a birder friend and owns ‘Bay Excursions’ offering boating trips out on Kachemak Bay in Homer. This couple was from Northern Indiana and he said he just loves the desert so they leave Indiana in early January and come down for two months – and of course to escape the Indiana cold.
Birders and Photographers (in search of the Elegant Trogon and White-throated Thrush) outnumbered hikers on the trail ten-to-one. Oh and as of 2:30 p.m., no one had spotted the White-throated Thrush yet. And there were two people who had come all the way from California to see the bird. They had been on the trail since dawn to try and find this bird. Maybe they will get lucky before the day is out.
We got back to camp around 2:45 p.m. and decided to just relax and enjoy the rest of the day. Tomorrow we will check out nearby Florida (pronounced Flo-ri-d-a) Canyon for the Rufous-capped Warbler and Black-chinned Sparrows. I think the warbler is more likely to be seen than the sparrow.
27 January 2019
We got up early, packed up, and headed to Florida Canyon, which is located a short distance from Madera Canyon (just over the hill as the crow flies). We got there around 8:00 a.m., probably a little early as there weren’t many birds moving about. The sun was up, but hadn’t hit the floor of Florida Canyon yet. This canyon has a stream where the Rufous-capped Warbler hangs out. We later heard a birder from Tucson say the best time to get there is around 10:00 a.m. Okay, so we were 2 hours early – early birds.
We walked/hiked/climbed over rocks up the wash, passing the dam, making the first stream crossing, and then the second stream crossing. We saw a few birds, but not the warbler. We walked back down to the first stream crossing and saw movement in some willows alongside the stream. There was a Ruby-crowned Kinglet (they were everywhere) and a Lincoln’s Sparrow. We waited and watched. I then proceeded back up the trail a short distance and saw movement on the hillside. Up went the binoculars to a small bird on an Ocotillo cactus. There was the Rufous-capped Warbler. I called Jack, but by the time he got to me the bird had flushed. We searched and searched but never did see the elusive bird again.
There were a number of people looking for the bird, but without success. It will be interesting to check eBird to see if anyone besides me saw the bird today. One guy with his camera was hunkered down for an apparent long wait. We left the area around 1:00 p.m. and he still hadn’t come back to the parking lot. Such patience. Me, not so much.
We did meet a couple from Flagstaff. Guess what – they’ve been to Homer and they love it. They went out on a boat with Karl Stoltzfus. Karl, you are popular. Not surprisingly we’ve yet to meet anyone who hasn’t liked (marveled about) Homer. This couple even got us on the Black-chinned Sparrow. Hooray!!!
We left Florida Canyon and drove to the community of Sierra Vista where we are staying in a hotel for the night. Not many camping options available around here. Tomorrow we plan to drive to Whitewater Draw and hopefully find a camping spot. Being as it is Monday, we might have better luck than on a weekend.