14 January 2019

We left Sedona today and headed southwest to Kofa National Wildlife Refuge (NWR).  We really love this refuge, in part because they allow free camping on the Refuge.  Kofa NWR is located near Quartzsite, Arizona.  And if you’ve never been to Quartzsite in the winter try to image a desert with over 70,000 motor homes spread out across the landscape.  I think there were even more this year.  Most of the motorhomes are on Bureau of Land Management managed lands.  Camper pay $180 for seven months (Sept 15- Apr 15).  By April the hot temperature drives the ‘snowbirds’ north and only a few hard souls remain – a ghost town .  So if there is a government shutdown and campers aren’t making their payments, the federal government is losing out on a lot of money.

We head to the Refuge and find more people camped along the Palm Canyon Road than ever we’ve seen before.  I would say at least 8-10 times as many people.  We’ve been here when you would be lucky to find two or three other campers.  We always felt lucky not to see anyone.  We did notice that the refuge host (volunteer) is still here.  Not sure if they are doing anything during the shutdown as we never saw them, but the Refuge kiosk brochure rack was stocked.

We drove the Palm Canyon Road to the end, parked in the parking lot, and then walked to the where you can see the ‘ancient’ palm tree.  Bird-wise, we only saw a single Rock Wren and two Common Ravens, although I did hear a Canyon Wren.  As the canyon area is quite large, it would be difficult to see the Canyon Wren.  Their song and call echoed off the canyon walls.  The trail to the palms is steep and rocky in places, but a very scenic hike.  On our way down the people right in front of us spotted a tarantula on the trail.  The woman was quite nervous about it and probably freaked out when I leaned down to get my phone within a couple of inches of the spider to take its photo.  The tarantula did rear up and challenge me, but tarantulas don’t bother me, nor do most other spiders.  Now large bugs that fly – I hate those.

After our hike we found a scenic pull out where we decided to camp (nice to have a ‘tin tent’ and just park it).  We aren’t too far from the canyon trailhead, maybe a mile or two.  I went to check out the surrounding area and see if I could find any birds.  It was pretty quiet out.  I did hear and then see two Costa’s Hummingbirds, and with my binoculars scanning the cactus and trees I was able to spot a Loggerhead Shrike.  Other than that, I only had about three small birds that darted from one very dense shrub to another so quickly all I could tell you was that they were small, light colored birds.  Walking in the desert is a real experience with such variety of thorny vegetation and lots of evidence of torrential rain conditions with ditches, washes, and wide gravel beds.

We did get a little rain this afternoon, and yes the area really does need it.  Although I must admit, it does seem greener than I’ve seen of the area in the past.  And the Ocotillos are heavily leaved and those that aren’t are in bloom.  Pretty.

Kofa National Wildlife Refuge sign

Our campsite

Palm Canyon

Trail marker


Yes, this is the trail too

Jack looking for birds

And more rocky trail

Looking down the trail

Yes there are palms up there

Look closer

And closer

Ta da – palms

View from the trail up Palm Canyon


In defensive mode

Close up view.  I really like these hairy spiders

Cholla cactus – I love these.  They look so soft against the landscape.

Hillside near our camp site

Costa’s Hummingbird

Up close

But they don’t look soft up close

Ocotillo – fully leaved out

Thorns on an Octollo

Ocotillo Flowers

The insides of a Saguaro Cactus

Globe Mallow

“Harris’s Antelope Squirrel

A new “Life” mammal for me

15 January 2019

We went to bed with it raining and woke to rain.  In fact, it rained most of the day.  We even had a little stream near our van.  And you could see several waterfalls cascading off the canyon walls.   There were some periods of time without rain and I took advantage of those to walk around the area.  Near our campsite there is an open area and I checked that out for birds.  I saw or heard a total of 13 species today, which was an improvement over yesterday.  At one point I had found two Cactus Wrens and an Ash-throated Flycatcher (First of Year bird).  The birds were singing away.  All of a sudden total silence.  I looked around and sure enough there on a tree displaying prominently was a Loggerhead Shrike.  Loggerhead Shrikes feed on birds, so these other birds sure don’t want to expose themselves by singing of flying.  The stealthy birds moved away from their immediate area to avoid the shrike.

I was happy to see some birds after spending most of the day in the van reading and playing Suduko on my iPad – and us with no heat.  Luckily the weather isn’t too cool, although I am wearing my Smartwool underclothes and pile pants; especially need them for the desert night.

Tomorrow is supposed to be nicer, with less chance of rain.  We are going to head over to Cibola National Wildlife Refuge and see if we can get on the refuge.  They have a really nice auto tour route we enjoy driving.  If there is a gate prohibiting entrance, we may just park nearby and walk the refuge auto tour route.

Wet, dreary day

The water coming down a small wash near our campsite

Rain puddles outside our camper van

Yay, the sun is coming out

Ash-throated Flycatcher

Cactus Wren


shaking out those feathers

Cactus Wren

Loggerhead Shrike


16 January 2016

YAY!!!  Cibola National Wildlife Refuge’s auto tour route (Canada Goose Loop) was open today.  I was so happy.  We did arrive in the fog, but that soon lifted and we had partly sunny skies and warm temperatures (60s), no wind.  A perfect day (of course, every day is a great day to bird).  In total we had 48 different species, including three Tundra Swans, which are rare for this part of the country – they generally don’t get this far south.

We also had a several impressive large flocks of: (consider my estimates low)

  • Sandhill Crane (1000)
  • Snow Goose (1000)
  • Mallard (800)
  • American Wigeon (500)
  • Northern Pintail (300)
  • Yellow-headed Blackbird (1000)
  • Red-winged Blackbird (2000)
  • Canada Goose (1000)
  • Great-tailed Grackle (500)

When the Snow Geese took flight is was a cloud of white and such noise!

Of the 48 species observed, 17 were First of Year (FOY) species.  We always come to Cibola NWR to see the Burrowing Owls and finally we saw a single Burrowing Owl.  Unfortunately, I had to get my scope out to see it, so not photograph worthy.  The Refuge has artificial nesting Burrowing Owl mounds and the owls like to roost outside their burrows – but not to be this time, maybe the weather was too cool?  There was a juvenile Bald Eagle perched along the owl route so that may have something to do with it.

After taking the auto tour route, we drove south to another part of the refuge.  There are a several roads along the Colorado River.  We took the ones that were passable.  With the rains of yesterday some of the roads looked pretty muddy and rutted and no bird is worth getting the van stuck. Did I really just say that?

We did find several species not observed during the auto tour route, including an Osprey, Clark’s Grebe, Common Goldeneye, Redhead, and a White-faced Ibis (almost missed it because it was down in a ditch and is such a dark bird).  All of these birds except the Redhead were FOYs.

We had an enjoyable day – Thanks USFWS for being open.  We decided to go for pizza at Silly Al’s in Quartzsite.  Mistake.  I think everyone else was there already.  No parking to be found and they have a large parking lot.  So we decided to try another restaurant and that one was full also. There were at least eight names on the waiting list ahead of us.  And it was only 5:00 p.m.  Oh well.  Guess when you have over 125,000+ snowbirds in the area, they all don’t want to cook in their RVs on a given night.  I wonder what these people do all winter long.  One answer is in the amazing number of flea market booths and funky specialty booths (gems, etc.) and RV showcases.  I think I would go crazy.  I would have to volunteer at the Cibola National Wildlife Refuge.

Cibola National Wildlife Refuge sign

Refuge map

This is the first pond you come to along the auto tour route. The ducks love it as you can see.

Mallards, Pintails, Wigeons

Green-winged Teal (Male)

Ruddy Duck (stiff tail)

American Wigeon

Tundra Swan

Tundra Swan

They do have a trail that takes you out to a viewing platform overlooking another pond

The habitat along the trail is open in places and dense in other places

Trail leading to the viewing platform

Viewing Platform

What you see from the viewing platform. Although it doesn’t look like there are any ducks on the water, there were hundreds of them – mostly Mallards.

Lots of open fields for the birds

In this field there were a lot of Sandhill Cranes and ducks (primarily Mallard)

But also lots of Yellow-headed Blackbirds and Red-winged Blackbirds – thousands of them

This is a coyote.  He was pretty brave and did not run off when he spotted us.  Just continued eating.

Some of the many Snow Geese. How many do you think are there here?

Sandhill Cranes

Tree full of blackbirds and grackles

These are the Burrowing Owl artificial nest mounds

Lots of corn cobs in front of these nest holes

Colorado River

Love the big Fremont Cottonwoods

Northern Harrier

American Kestrel

Not many birds on this wetland. This area is open to waterfowl hunting so the waterfowl hangout along the auto tour route, which is closed to hunting.

Colorado River

This Common Goldeneye was swimming in the Colorado River

17 January 2019

We decided to stay another day/night at Kofa National Wildlife Refuge.  We went to a new area for us – Crystal Hills.  This is a very scenic area where you can collect rocks (for non-commercial purposes) – mainly quartz crystals you find on the ground.  There are limitations however.  In a 12-month period, you can only collect ten ‘specimens’ or ten pounds of crystals, whichever you obtain first.  So one really big rock or up to ten smaller ones.  I wonder how someone knows if a rock weighs ten pounds or not.  I sure don’t.  Oh, and you can only collect rocks on the surface (no digging or using a metal detector).  The Refuge has a lot of old mines so I guess it was once popular for finding gems.

We walked/climbed the area and soon found our quota of rocks to take back with us.  The rocks that caught our eye never quite look the same when we get back to the campsite and then we ponder what will we do with them.  We did end up keeping a few.

We also birded the area, of course.  We had nine species, of which two were hummingbirds:  Anna’s Hummingbird and Costa’s Hummingbird.  Fun to see the hummers.  It was pretty quiet bird-wise.  There were a few people out and about.  You can camp in this area too, but we decided to go back to our favorite pull-off site along Palm Canyon Road.  When we got to the road I started counting the number of campers – 26 before even reaching the refuge entrance.  The land before the Refuge is under BLM management.

We did go into Quartzsite  first to get some ice and visit the Dairy Queen.  The town was hopping with grey-haired people.  I still can’t get over how many people come to this community each winter.  And with more baby boomers, there seem to be even more RVs.  And we aren’t talking about the small RVS, rather those monster 65-foot plus RVs and trailers you see on the road – often pulling a vehicle or trailer or boat.  I call them mobile homes on wheels.  The are rather “mobile” aren’t they?

Tomorrow we will leave this area and head down to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.  Don’t know what we will find, but decided to check it out.  We have reservations in a couple of days for Patagonia Lake State Park.  I really like the birding at Patagonia.

Some type of moth – pretty

Phainopepla – Male in flight

Cyrstal Hill

Lots of shale on the hillside

Oh, but lots of quartz too

The best birding was along this wash near the foothills


Our new campsite just down the road from our previous campsite

18 January 2019

Today was essentially a travel day.  We left the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge around 9:00 a.m.  On the road out I counted 30 campers.  We’ve NEVER seen this many people camped along Palm Canyon Road.  We liked it so much better when there were only a couple of other campers.

Our destination for the night – Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.  Since this National Monument is affected by the government shutdown, we didn’t know what to expect when we got here.  The worst – the campground would be closed with no access.  The best – full operations (okay pipe dream, no pun intended).  The Monument had an ‘Area Closed’ sign but the campground was open with a disclaimer that any reservations could not be guaranteed – fight it out I guess.  So in we went.

We got to the campground around 2:00 p.m. to find it less than 1/3 full, if that.  We quickly found a campsite (#173) and pulled in just as several birds crossed the road in front of us (yes, always about the birds) – two Cactus Wrens, a Curve-billed Thrasher (First of Year), and a male House Finch.  Not a bad way to start our experience at the campground.

After setting up at our campsite, we walked the perimeter campground trail.  We didn’t see much bird-wise other than a Black-tailed Gnatcatcher.  This bird had been banded, sporting a blue (Jack thought green) band and a silver band (USFWS) on its right leg, and red band on its left leg.  I couldn’t quite tell if there was a second band on its left leg because the bird kept favoring this leg, rarely put any weight on it for long.  Maybe the band was pinching its leg.  If so, that is one of the reasons I don’t care for bird banding.  I know scientists get valuable information from capture/recapture of birds, but do you need to band them to get the information?  How many banded migratory birds are re-seen or recaptured, especially songbirds.  If someone can give me these statistics that show a benefit, I might think its valuable to put bands on the birds.

So, what actually is available at the campground?  We do have running water.  Two of the restrooms are open and they are clean, have toilet paper, each has a shower.   However, Jack said the water was cool (not even warm) – solar powered.  Jack was going to pay for our stay, but there weren’t any fee envelopes available.  I guess we could just stick the money in the iron ranger.  The cost to stay here is $20.00 per night, or for people with a senior pass (Jack) $10.00 per night.  Since our last four nights were free (USFWS doesn’t charge to camp on the refuge), I think we should spend $20.00 for two nights.  Yes, we are planning to stay two nights.  Oh and as I was typing this blog post a hummingbird flew into the van then quickly flew back out, scaring me.  We have a red towel hanging by the door so it must have been fooled into thinking it was food.

The road we took to the National Monument is Highway 85.  We exited Interstate 8 onto Highway 85 and I think the traffic quadrupled from what we had on the interstate.  And since we were driving the speed limit, everyone was passing us.  This is the road people take to Rocky Point in Mexico.  This is an area we hope to visit someday.  Just not this trip.

Our campsite – #173

Me in front of an Organ Pipe Cactus.  Gee I wonder how this cactus got its name?

Jack hiding in an Organ Pipe Cactus

The area just outside the campground – pretty bleak

Baby pipes

A nest – possibly Cactus Wren


 19 January 2019

Today we hiked and birded the trail from the campground to the Victoria Mine (abandoned).  The trip out and back is 4.2 miles.  The trail was a little rocky in places so you had to be careful of your steps, especially if you are also trying to watch for birds.  There wasn’t much at the mine, other than some mine tailings, old shaft openings covered with secure, open grids (habitat protection for bats – Arizona has a very impressive diversity of bats), and remnants of an old building that was once the mine’s store.

Once again most of the birds we saw were in the campground.  The hummingbirds stay around the campground because people bring hummingbird feeders with them, despite the park rule against it.  We had a pair of Curve-billed Thrashers in the campground, and I think they may have been building a nest in a Palo Verde tree as I saw one carrying nest material to that tree.

In total, the number of birds we saw today was 14, of which one was a First of Year bird:  Gilded Flicker.  Not a bad number for the desert.  And today was sunny, calm winds, and short-sleeved weather.  Sweet!!!

Tomorrow we head to Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge for one night.

Interesting trailer – called a “Cricket”

Curve-billed Thrasher

Could this be the thrasher’s nest?

Curve-billed Thrasher (mate) on a cactus

Cactus Wren – looking left

– then right

Black-tailed Gnatcatcher

House Finch (Male)

Northern Mockingbird

Black-throated Sparrow

This cactus is loaded with lots of fruit

The trail to Victoria Mine

Last time we were here ( January 2016) they had a trail crew working on the stairs

Several benches along the route

Saw this nest

This is the entrance to the nest (backside, or is it the front side?)

Being so close to the border …

Victoria Mine Site

Bats use the mines, which are protected with a grate

This building was the store

More Cactus Wrens – Yay!

We think this fire is in Mexico. The border isn’t too far from the campground.

20 January 2019

We woke as the sun was rising.  What a beautiful site in the desert.  We left the campground and headed north to the town of Why, stopping at the Why Not Travel Center for coffee.  I love the murals on the buildings here and they have an old rustic truck they turned into a fountain with water flowing out of its absent front windshield and side windows, and with music playing.  Around the truck was a pool of water with landscaping and a sign – “do not feed the coyotes”.

We headed to Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge to bird and camp.  Camping here is primitive in that they have designated places for you to park and a rock fire ring.  No picnic tables, no toilets, no garbage cans, but a peaceful and scenic area.  We first drove to the visitor center – closed because of the shutdown – to check out the birds and then drove the “Pronghorn Drive” (about ten miles in length) to bird.  We didn’t see a lot of birds along the drive, mostly Vesper Sparrows and Mourning Doves.  On the road to the visitor center when we first came in we did have a large flock of meadowlarks, which included the Eastern Meadowlark (Lillian’s subspecies).  We also saw nine Pronghorn Antelope (just not along Pronghorn Drive- maybe they didn’t read the sign?).

After the driving the “Pronghorn Drive”, we were coming out to the main road and had just turned north when a U.S. Border Patrol vehicle came barreling down a dirt road going hell bent for leather (i.e., fast).  He passed us and we thought that was it.  When we turned down the road to Arivaca, as this is the route to most of the primitive campsites, I spotted a helicopter.  As we neared our turnoff for the primitive campsites, we  saw several border patrol vehicles parked along the side of the road and a border patrol agent clasping the back of an illegal immigrant.  The immigrant could not have been more than 10-12 years old.  He was dressed fully in camouflage, as was his backpack.  The agent actually was holding three such backpacks so it must have been a family group?  I couldn’t see whether there were any people in the vehicles – tinted windows.  We turned down the road to the primitive camping area and that was it – at least for us.

I told Jack there must be an underground railroad system of sorts or Arivaca is a sanctuary community.  The immigrants must have some contacts in the U.S. in order to find refuge once they get here.  The border is at least 8 miles away, so that is a long walk in the hot sun (temperatures in the 70s) or cold nights.  What drives these people to come here?  Their lives in their home countries must be so intolerable to make them come knowing the risks they could be caught – like this kid – and held in  a detention center, only to be sent back.  We wonder if the young boy is now separated from his family?  Why don’t we work with the countries of these people to try and make their countries safer, if safety is an issue?  Unfortunately, Americans and their drug problems are fueling the crisis in these countries.  If these illegal immigants fear for their lives because they don’t want to be forced to join gangs and sell or deliver drugs, let’s do something to alleviate that problem.   That is the humanitarian crisis.  Spend the $6.0 billion dollars on that effort.  We need to show more compassion.

We have seen a lot more border patrol agents along the Arizona border, than we did in Texas.  I understand this area (Buenos Aires NWR) is a favorite spot for illegal immigrants to come into the U.S.  I do want to thank all the border patrol agents who are working without pay.  That is a lot to ask of someone.

We are at the same camp spot we stayed at in 2016 – site #16.  I just heard several coyotes yipping and two Great Horned Owls calling.  We actually had a long look at a coyote on the road this morning as we were leaving Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument – such adaptable animals.

Tomorrow we leave the “desert” and head towards the mountains – Patagonia Lake and Madera Canyon.

Fountain at the “Why Not Truck Stop”

Beautiful work

Love this wall

Musical truck fountain

Don’t Feed the Coyotes sign

Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge sign

Pronghorn Antelope

This Red-tailed Hawk caught a mouse and was eating it – fur and all

American Kestrel

Mourning Dove

Vesper Sparrow – there were lots of these sparrows

Gray Flycatcher

Not sure what created this hole, but it was big

Vesper Sparrow


Campsite Number #16 – Primitive Camping at its best

View from our campsite


Remember …

It’s Always A Great Day to Bird