28 January 2019
We spent last night at a hotel in Sierra Vista. There aren’t many campground (public) around the area so we thought we would catch up on laundry and my blog – posting. The hotel was fine, although the hot water was tepid at best. I so wanted a nice HOT bath. Oh well.
In the morning we stopped for groceries then went to Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) San Pedro Conservation Area, about 8 miles east of Sierra Vista. We really like this place. It is a good place to see sparrows and we saw a lot. However, I’m not very good at identifying many of the sparrows, especially when they are at a distance and constantly moving. We looked for the Western Screech Owl that roosts in a Fremont Cottonwood next to the visitor center. The limb the bird is usually seen in had been cut. Oh my. So I went in and asked if the owl had been seen. A volunteer was nice enough to take me back outside and show me the new roosting spot for the owl, which happens to be in the same tree, just a different snag hole. She said that BLM had wanted to cut down the cottonwoods near the visitor center but the public was in an uproar over it and they backed down and only did some trimming of selected limbs. She suspects the trees will eventually be cut down for safety reasons. Too bad for the owl and for us birders who enjoy watching the little Western Screech Owl.
We walked along the San Pedro River. I was looking for a Dusky Flycatcher and thought I would quickly play the call so I would know it if I heard the bird. A man walked by and asked if I was looking for the Louisiana Waterthrush. Well news to us, but you betchya. Now I’m excited. He told me where it had been seen so off Jack and I went. We got to the spot and waited for about 5-10 minutes. I then walked a short distance along the stream and the bird flushed into a nearby tree. I bent down to get a photo of the bird (free of twigs or a lot of twigs) and another birder asked me what I had found. I told him, and he came down with Jack to the area where the bird was perched. We all got really good looks at the bird. Woohoo!!! An unexpected, but pleasant surprise and a new bird for the year.
In all, we walked an estimated 2.4 miles along the scenic riparian greenbelt and slowly made our way back to the visitor center. We saw a total of 37 different species.
We left the conservation area and drove to Whitewater Draw, our destination for the next several days. When we got here, around 1:30 p.m. we were fortunate enough to find a camp spot with a picnic table (there are only four such sites). We then proceeded to check out the birding, which included seeing and hearing an estimated 5,000+ Sandhill Cranes. These we learned are the “early returners” – cranes that return from the feeding grounds around noon or so (the noon flight). What an amazing site and sound. Around dusk (5:30 p.m. or so), huge groups of cranes came flying in (the evening flight) to roost in the open-water wetlands. The area is also full of ducks, snow geese, and lots of other birds, including two Great Horned Owls in a nearby roosting area. In total we saw 27 different species.
The only downside to the day was the late arrival (around 5:00 pm) of a “European Monstrosity” (they build their motor homes to survive nuclear blasts, I think), which pulled up right behind us. The vehicle can’t be more than 20 feet away. Really???
29 January 2019
We got up early this morning and went out to see the Sandhill Cranes take off. Their departure wasn’t as spectacular as their arrival – they all don’t lift off at once. But there were a LOT of Sandhill Cranes in the area. I estimated at least 10,000-15,000, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I was off by 10,000 or so. When you looked up at the sky you could see wave upon wave of Sandhill Cranes flying off to the various farm field to feed. Not all cranes left the area. Many fly to a nearby farm field. However, the majority leave the immediate area. Then around noon many of the cranes returned to Whitewater Draw to feed, preen, and roost. Too see this many cranes is mind boggling. And there were a lot of other people coming out to see the cranes as well. At one point (around noon) there were at least 25 cars in the parking lot. This might not seem like many cars, but in past years the most vehicles we would see in the parking lot at one time would be around 5-6. Nice to see so many people interested in the cranes and their conservation.
Mixed in among all the cranes are several all brown cranes (rather than the typical gray coloring). And on one of the brown cranes, its red lores (face) and crown actually looked more reddish-orange than the typical red we see on the other cranes.
We spent most of the day walking around and checking out the various birds at this refuge. We saw a total of 52 different species. Not too shabby, eh. We did see five wren species: Cactus, Rock, Bewick’s, Marsh, and House. What a great day for wrens and wren lovers (me). The Rock Wren actually came into our camp site and was sitting on the fence railing about five feet from Jack. And there were lots of Marsh Wrens about, which is not surprisingly since this area is, in part, a marsh. And speaking of marshes, there must have been over 1,000 Yellow-headed and Red-winged Blackbirds in the marsh or swirling overhead at dusk. We also had an immature Vermillion Flycatcher. The immature male does sport the bright red and black feathers.
Later in the day we met up with our friends Pat and Bob. We birded with them for a couple of hours, pointing out some of the birds we had seen, including the Great Horned Owl in the owl roosting area. While we scoping out the owl and feeling pretty smug, a woman and her daughter pointed out another Great Horned Owl in plain view that we had walked by without noticing. I had heard both owls last night so it was nice to see both at the roost site.
Tomorrow we will leave and make our way to Cave Creek Canyon near Portal, Arizona.
30 January 2019
This morning we didn’t go down to the marsh viewing area to watch the cranes leave their roosting spot. Instead we watched the spectacle from the campground (which is close). But we really should have gone down since the cranes were much closer to the viewing areas this morning than they were yesterday and there seemed to be a continuous departure of cranes for over an hour; filling the sky. What an amazing site. And it seemed there were fewer people this morning to witness it.
We birded the area with friends Pat and Bob, and as we neared completion of our birding circuit around 11:00 a.m. we noticed a lot of cars in the parking lot. Everyone was here for the noon arrival of cranes. When we left the parking lot to head to Cave Creek Canyon near Portal, Arizona, I counted 40 cars in the parking lot and camping area (non-campers) with more people arriving. Yesterday there were only 25 cars. Pat looked at the sign-in register and saw that someone from Homer (other than us) had signed in. So we checked it out. Seems as though Mako Haggerty, a water taxi operator and former Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly member, was present to watch the cranes return. The sign-in book had many other out-of-state notations.
We drove into Douglas Arizona for lunch at Mana Café and Bakery (great place), and then proceeded to Cave Creek Canyon. We got to the U.S. Forest Service – Sunny Flats Campground around 3:00 p.m. I was worried we wouldn’t find a camping spot as this campground is in a very scenic location, well designed, and popular. We need not have worried because we were the first campers for the night. This was great because we got to pick the best site (#13), which is in full sun and a 360 degree commanding view of the massive rock cliffs surrounding the campground. In the winter it can get cold here (elevation 5,200 feet), so having the van in the sun is essential. Pat and Bob joined us at the campground about an hour later, but their favorite spot was taken by a Canadian (Quebec) couple. We talked with the couple for about an hour about different places they have traveled, including Homer. They complained about our campgrounds on the Homer Spit, which I agree are not the best.
We plan to stay here at least two nights. How cold it gets at night and how long it stays cold in the morning will determine if we stay here longer than two nights.
31 January 2019
We got a slow start to our birding, other than what we saw in the campground, which included eight species, well nine actually, depending on the raven ID. We had two ravens but I’m not sure if they were Common Ravens or Chihuahuan Ravens. I would almost need to have both birds side-by-side. I sure can’t tell by their calls or seeing them from a distance. However, the habitat is Common Raven habitat. The Chihuahuan Raven likes more open desert habitat.
We had intended to go birding up the South Fork of Cave Creek, which is near the campground, but got side-tracked in talking to some of the other campers. A couple from Quebec and a couple from Colorado, plus our campground host. Bob and Pat were present too. I think we talked for over an hour about different places we’ve been, where people should go to see certain birds, etc. Fun. Everyone, except the campground host had been to Alaska. The campground host told me she lives primarily on her social security, which is around $800 per month. That is why she is a campground host – she doesn’t have to pay the campground fees and she gets free electricity.
We finally left the campground around 10:30 a.m. and walked up the South Fork Road to the trailhead, birding along the way. We then proceeded about a mile up the trail, before turning back. In all we walked over 5.0 miles and saw a total of 16 different species, of which six were woodpeckers: Acorn Woodpecker, Arizona Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Red-naped Sapsucker, and Williamson’s Sapsucker. The Hairy Woodpecker and the Williamson’s Sapsucker are First of Year Species. I have a total of 159 First of Year Species for the month of January. Not too bad for only a month of birding. We’ve only seen the Williamson’s Sapsucker one other time and that was in Sedona during a hike about 6-7 years ago. Nice to see the sapsucker again. Two other great birds we saw were a Painted Redstart and four Yellow-eyed Juncos. The juncos were in the grass scratching for food within 10 feet of us. I really like their yellow eyes.
We got back to the campground around 4:30 p.m. and since we are in a canyon, the sun had already disappeared behind the canyon walls. We decided it would be best to start dinner since we really hadn’t had any lunch yet, and our daylight was fading fast.
I really love this area. The canyon is uniquely different from the red rocks around Sedona. These canyon walls have a lot of caves – hence the name. And the canyon is relatively narrow so the rock walls are relatively close and imposing.
1 February 2019
We left the campground around 10:00 a.m. for some local birding. We stopped at Cave Creek Ranch to check out the feeders (at a cost of $5.00 per person) and left 2.5 hours later. Fun to watch all the birds come to the various feeders to eat, bath, drink water, chase each other off, and suddenly flush if a raptor came over. The people we met from Quebec told us about the place and that they had seen a Scott’s Oriole and Blue-throated Hummingbird there yesterday. We had to stop for the Oriole and we were rewarded with brief views. I don’t know if this is a life bird for me or not. Will have to go back and check my records from when we were in the area in 2008.
We then went for a nice lunch at the Portal Café. We had heard there was fast, free internet at the library so we headed there after lunch. Although the library was closed (open from 10:00-2:00), we were still able to log onto their network to download emails while sitting on a bench outside the library. As Jack was checking his emails, Bob, Pat, and I walked around the town (not very big) and birded, finding a Townsend’s Solitaire, which made Bob and Pat very happy, as well as several Hermit Thrushes. I always wonder if the thrushes I see in Arizona or elsewhere in the Lower 48 are thrushes that migrate to Homer in the spring. I always wish them a safe journey.
Our next birding stop was a private home (again) owned by an Alaskan – Bob Rodriquez. He winters here and has lots of feeders. He has a donation box for bird food, rather than requiring mandatory payment. We added to his donation box. We had a total of 16 different species here in a hour’s visit, including the Crissal Thrasher, a bird I was very happy to see. While the Crissal Thrasher is considered common, we don’t see them often. Not like the Curve-billed Thrasher, which seems to be everywhere.
We were back in camp around 4:30 p.m. only to find a nearly full campground (there are only 15 campsites here). Today is Friday so a lot more people getting out to enjoy Nature.
2 February 2019
Last night the campers next to us proceed to chop wood after dark. Then they stayed up most of the night. I could hear them talking, although not loud, and occasionally laughing (a little louder). I woke up around 1:00 a.m. and I could still hear them outside talking. Their wood pile must have gotten low because I then heard them chopping wood again. They tired to be quiet about it, chopping once then waiting 10-15 seconds before taking another chop. However, I think that was probably more annoying than just getting it all chopped quickly. I kept waiting for the next chop. So much for quiet hours. It really irks me when people can’t abide by these rules. Not everyone stays up to all hours of the night. If you don’t want to abide by the rules, then go camping somewhere else. Go primitive, off-road camping where you are alone and can make as much noise as you like.
We decided to return to Whitewater Draw and enjoy the cranes. I wasn’t sure what we would find here camping wise, but when we arrived, there was one spot left with a picnic table so we grabbed it. We saved room in front of our van for our friends Bob and Pat. Surprisingly, someone came later and parked right behind us – within 10 feet. In all there are 10 campers here tonight with four picnic table spaces. And I thought eight campers was bad earlier this week. It is amazing where people will park their campers. Of the ten campers, we are the only ones who need a picnic table. Everyone else is self-contained.
When we got to Whitewater Draw it was overcast and windy. There weren’t too many cranes, maybe around 5,000. Yes, that seems like a lot, but when you can get up to 30,000 that number isn’t so much. People were coming and going all afternoon checking out the cranes. There was a large flock of several thousand cranes that came in around 3:00 p.m., with the last large flock arriving around 6:00 p.m. All are settled down for the night. Of course the nearby coyotes might change that somewhat.
There weren’t as many marsh and upland birds out today as when we were here in the early part of the week. Maybe it was due to the wind and cool, overcast day? The Arizona Game and Fish Department is pumping more water into the marsh. We are wondering if this is in anticipation of migratory birds arriving soon.
The “bird of the day” was a leucistic Yellow-headed Blackbird. The bird was all white, except for a portion of its head and chest which were yellow (see photo).
Tomorrow we head back towards Tucson. We are going to check out a new, for us, campground – Gilbert Ray. I hope they have an opening. If not, we might end up back at Madera Canyon.
Until then …
It’s Always a Great Day to Bird